This article discusses the ideas of Barbara Lockee of Virgina Tech. Lockee did her doctoral dissertation on using hypermedia to perpetuate Native American languages. Although a small percentage of Native American people are fluent in a native language, Lockee suggests that there is hope because many elders believe that maintenance of tribal cultures is dependent on young people’s learning to read, write, and speak their native languages. As part of her dissertation work, Lockee is developing a program to help teach Native Americans their original languages.
Lockee mentions the reasons for why Native Americans lost their languages. Influences such as residential school and moving to reservations heavily affected preservation of native languages. With the lack of ability to communicate to elders, native peoples have a hard time learning about the their culture and heritage.
Lockee discusses how non-urban Native Americans have different learning styles that they have acquired at home. This is something important to consider when implementing language programs with Native students. These progams also need to be relevent and involve the context of actual situations.
The progam that Lockee is creating provides an opportunity for the students to translate and even write their own stories at their own pace. It also promotes critical thinking skills instead of memorization of content. The students would also be allowed to work in pairs to encourage cooperative, inter-related type learning that suits their cultural styles. Although her program is created for the Cherokee language, different tribes can adapt the program by inserting their own legends and languages into the template.
I find this document to be very encouraging as I understand that many Aboriginal peoples in Canada are also concerned with the loss of their language and heritage. Because there are so many different tribes and languages involved, it would be challenging to find or create a program similar to that of Lockee’s to possibly accommodate native language revival in Canada. With the available technology today, it seems quite possible. However, there is a time limit as elders only get older and will no longer be available to aid in the language revival process.
Native America Calling (NAC) is a radio talk-show connecting traditional and internet radio stations and listeners in dialogue about Indigenous issues. Boasting an audience of approximately half a million listeners throughout Canada and the United States, each episode features experts and guests with callers with a stated goal of improving the lived reality of Native Americans.
The one-hour program airs live, five days a week, from 10-11 a.m. PST (or, 1-2 pm EST). You can listen to the program streaming online, or you can tune-in on your radio if you are in range. If you want to call in, the number is 1-800-99-NATIV. New topics are posted at the beginning of each week and you can also sign up to their mailing list to have topics delivered to you. You can also listen to the archive of past topics, ranging back over a decade, although the program hasn’t always been 5 days per week. The program is produced in Anchorage, Alaska, by the native owned/operated Koahnic Broadcast Corporation.
Cultural Survival is an organization that works worldwide with indigenous communities to help defend their lands, languages and customs. Their website includes features of some of their work such as projects like “Celebrating Native American Language Revitalization in Film” as well as publications and opportunities to participate in some of their partnership activities with indigenous peoples.
Revitalization of indigenous languages is a big part of what Cultural Survival does. They help create small community-based radio stations that broadcast in local languages and also help aggregate language-based resources for indigenous communities.
This website does not have extensive academic articles, although these may be available by subscribing to their publications. I think it has some value for anyone looking for examples of language and cultural revitalization to support their research into these areas.
The Myaamia Project, started in 2001, is an exemplary model of tribally controlled education supporting Myaamia cultural and language revitalization. The project has developed as a mutually beneficial partnership between Miami University and Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. In-depth research conducted at the university supports a wide range of Miami community language and cultural initiatives, benefiting every Miami tribal member who has an interest in Myaamia language and culture. Meanwhile, undergraduate and graduate students gain a wide range of experiences through direct involvement with the planning, development, delivery and follow-up of research projects. Most, if not all, of the developed materials are freely available to anybody who would like to use them (See the recently developed Earth & Sky Curriculum for an example); and anybody who wishes to contribute is welcome to join the project.
Many reports and studies over the last 10 years indicate that most of Canada’s Indigenous languages are declining and are at risk of extinction. Onowa McIvor in 2009 reported that at first European contact there were an estimated 450 aboriginal languages and dialects, now there are only about 60 languages still spoken. Statistics Canada reported in 2001 that North American Indians with the ability to converse in their native language fell from 20% in 1996 to 16% in 2001.
The Northwest Territories has the most advanced Aboriginal language legislation and policies in Canada supported by the 1984 Official languages Act. In 1999 the NWT Literacy Council published “Languages of the Land” A resource manual for individuals and communities interested in Aboriginal language development. In 2010, the Government of the NWT published an Aboriginal Languages Plan to set out a framework for strengthening their nine aboriginal languages over the next decade.
British Columbia has 32 of Canada’s First Nations languages and about 59 dialects. At the time of colonization in BC 100% of the First Nations people were fluent in at least one language. This number has dropped dramatically since the late 1800’s to just 5% today. The First Peoples’ Heritage, Language and Culture Council published a report on the Status of BC First Nations Languages in 2010 with a real need to act to save and preserve what is left.
One common theme throughout all of these reports is to find opportunities for youth to connect and communicate in their native language with fluent speakers and elders. This can be done through immersion camps, language nests and other intergenerational ties.
This video discusses the “silent” crisis of language loss that is being experienced in Aboriginal communities. This crisis is labelled as “silent” because it cannot be heard nor is it a tangible problem that we can see. The video talks about the importance of language preservation in Aboriginal communities and what actions can be done to save Aboriginal languages. Technology is a tool that can aid in the preservation of Aboriginal languages. Also, public awareness is important in helping the revitalization of these languages. The internet is a tool that really help in teaching endangered languages to people, especially children and youth. An interviewee suggests that “language is important to preserve because without language, the culture is just a shell; without language, the culture is just a surface without something inside”. This video is very inspiring as it shows clips of children of Aboriginal children using flashcards and the computer to learn language. It also shows some elderly individuals learning how to use technology so they can help in the revitalization of Aboriginal languages.
I have not had a chance to watch the entire 40-minute video yet, however the topics that Kate Hennessy covers in her presentation is very interesting. This webcast is sponsored by Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. It states that many Canadian First Nations and Aboriginal organizations are using digital media to revitalize their languages and assert control over the representation of their cultures. At the same time, museums, academic institutions, and individuals are digitizing their ethnographic collections to make them accessible to originating communities. Hennessy discusses the digitization and return of heritage to Aboriginal communication via the virtual route. She talks about the opportunities, challenges, and critiques associated with digitization, circulation, and remix of Aboriginal cultural heritage. She also discusses some recent projects including a collaborative virtual exhibit with a community in the Western Arctic. Hennessy is a professor at SFU and her research explores the role of digital technology in the documentation and safeguarding of cultural heritage, and in the mediation of culture, history, objects, and subjects in new forms. This video would benefit anyone who is interested in exploring the digitization of Aboriginal cultural heritage. Hennessy demonstrates that while access to cultural heritage in digital collections can facilitate the articulation of intellectual property rights to digital cultural heritage, it also amplifies the difficulty of enforcing those rights.
The goal of my research will be similar to Nicola’s: examining ways that indigenous groups are using technology to help preserve and revitalize languages. I had the opportunity to work for the Ktunaxa Nation Tribal Council for a year writing proposals to generate funding to support their wide variety of projects. A couple of the proposals were to support the preservation and revitalization of their almost extinct isolate language. Both proposals were funded: one for doing an inventory of fluent speakers and the other to initiate the development of a high speed broadband system to connect their five rural communities to support language preservation. I ended up writing the final report for the fluent speaker project as the Ktunaxa researcher hired to do the work left the community after the interviews were completed and the data was compiled. At that time in 2002 there were only about 36 fluent speakers alive, however, today I understand the total has dwindled to about 20.
At the end of 2002 I moved back to Calgary and became involved in mainstream technical post-secondary education; however the challenge of the dwindling Ktunaxa fluent speaker population was always in the back of my mind. Now with my enrolment in this course, I started to think about how the Ktunaxa Nation language preservation and broadband project had evolved. I reconnected with my former boss and realized that finding out more about how indigenous people use technology to preserve and revitalize their languages is something that I would like to know more about.
Located on the Adams Lake Band reseve in the Sepwepemc Nation, BC, Chief Atahm School is a parent-run language immersion school and educational program. The program began in 1987 as a language nest modeled in the Maori style of “Te Kohanga Reo” by a group of parents hoping to stem the loss of the Sepwepemc language. Since that time, their program has grown into an internationally celebrated example of successful tribally controlled education. Their Vision Statement reflects a deep respect for the values and traditions of the Sepwepemc.
The school provides full immersion from nursery through grade three, partial immersion for grades four through nine, and adult language courses. As the success of their program has become evident through the students that progress through the school and the revitalization of the Sepwepemc language, they also provide yearly Teacher Training institutes and adaptable curriculum development tools. Building on a tradition of continuing refinement of their programming, Chief Atahm School holds an annual language conference that is well attended by language activists, teachers, and enthusiasts.
Dustin Rivers is a young language revitalization activist of the Squamish Nation. He does not profess to be a language expert or even fluent in the language he is helping to teach, but he saw a chance to promote the revival of his language through engaging his community (noting that “Social Media is just the beginning!”). Launched on November 17, 2010, Dustin’s website SquamishLanguage.com has served to promote language classes in the Squamish Valley, discuss the basic tenets and importance of language immersion around the home, promote two podcasts (one relating to language lessons and one relating to cultural icons, knowledge keepers, and leaders), study scripts for “word-of-the-day” posts, invite community members to play traditional games and language-fluency games, and more.
It is also notable that this initiative is not (yet?) officially sanctioned by the Squamish Nation, nor does it have any financial sponsorship. This website serves as an example of how one Aboriginal youth is successfully initiating a grass-roots revival of his heritage language, using social media as a distribution platform. The Na Tkwi Sníchim podcast is especially relevant for language enthusiasts looking for a model to base their own language initiatives around.
The celebration of this successful language initiative to date is heartening and worth keeping track of.