Monday, February 21, 2011

The Power of Language to Keep Indigenous Cultures Alive

The transcript is below the fold.

This the Thursday September 9th edition of Native America Calling.  I'm your host Harlan Macasito.  I used to feel guilty about not knowing my tribal languages, except for just a few words, or a few phrases here or there, but as I have done a little research on the disappearance of tribal languages, or Indigenous languages, it's not just my tribes.  It's happening all over the world. It's happening on every continent, in every country, to ever Indigenous peoples on this earth.

Every 14 days a language disappears from the earth.
If Children do not learn the language of their parents, then they will not teach it to their children.
A language can disappear in as little as three generations. 
Disappear in 3 generations.
When a language dies its culture soon vanishes.
This is a story of a third generation.....
The young ancestors.

As I grew older and as the the elders in my tribe began to pass away, there was less and less of the old languages being spoken, until now today, it is almost nonexistent -- even within our ceremonies and it's disheartening to say the least.  And you know what? It's not an over statement in my mind, to say it's tragic.

Jim Leonard (Headmaster of Sante Fe Prep):In the fall of 2009,  Anais Slaughter from the Indigenous language institute and Phylisha  Rivera who is the education director for (indecipherable) Pueblo came to me and asked whether prep would be interested in participating in a pilot program to help Native language and this case primarily forms of (indecipherable).  Most of our Native American students are not learning (indecipherable) from their grandparents or their parents, even though some of them are speaking it.  We say an opportunity as a school to partner with ILI and provide some opportunity and some access for kids, to that language study.

Jerry Hill (President of the Indigenous Language Institute):  What we were look at, was wanting to integrate the way we live, into the way we talk and think, and that's the way it was before.  The question is, how do you do that? And so this self taught course you know; it's a general taught format that's open to all kinds of interpretation as to how you do it.

Student 1:  As a student I know that I write a lot in my English classes about being Native American and what it mean to me.  Now that I'm in this self study program, it's really gotten me to analyze a lot of different aspects of being Native American and not just being from the Pueblo, but also what language has to do with thought formation -- like how it formed all of the culture's thoughts.

Student 2: People like when you say that you are Native, they're like you're Native that's cool, but this program it seems to like open peoples eyes, and show them we're serious. It like - this isn't just something were we dress up for a day or two, and then go out and then do our stuff, and then like go play Indian for a day.  It's not like that.  It's who we are and this program seems to show people we're serious about it.

David: (Naranjo Sante Fe Indian School Class of 2012): Seeing that where I come from, I always tell myself: remember where you come from; remember who you are, which really helps me because it gets me past all my struggles and stress and it just makes me feel good about myself - about how was born into such a culture that's so diverse from many others. 

Jim Leonard (Headmaster of Sante Fe Prep): So we worked out a pilot program whereby we identified a teacher who could work the five or six kids who were interested and gave them language credit, to be able to pursue those studies -- and so far it seems to be going very well.  It is somewhat ironic that we're giving foreign language credit for what is actually a native language, but that's the world we live in.

Laura Jagles (Mentor Self Study Program): I believe in living by example, so I know that if my voice is strong, that they'll know that their voice is strong eventually.

Ancestral Greeting: Meeting clay overwhelms spirit, overtakes all residing in the house.

Marissa Naranjo ( Santa Fe Prep Class of 2010): I think one of the things I noticed that came out that we didn't like practice or anything, was how much closer we got to our Native traditions and our heritage just by learning the language. 

Laura Jagles (Mentor Self Study Program): I stand to greet my past and what will come. They're here, ever present and around me.  Guiding me to sustain our shared experiences: life, treasures, rhythms, patterns, repeating craft of familial and communal memory.

Marissa Naranjo ( Santa Fe Prep Class of 2010): By making that bond with Miss J, we kind of formed our on little family and established kind like a little like community, where it was like safe to learn the language.

Laura Jagles (Mentor Self Study Program): I meet with (indecipherable) grandpa, (indecipherable) great grandma, (indecipherable) great aunt and many more ancestral spirits, alive in me.

I's passing on things that maybe my grandfather had told me, or maybe mom has told me, or maybe my aunts and uncles have told me -- to help them to be more strong in their identity of who they are.

Harlan Macasito: I remember when I was young I would hear both my Sakin Fox and Ioway elders speak in our tribal languages and it made me feel special. Even though I didn't know exactly what they were saying, but I certainly got the sense that there was something being said that had to do with love, for our relatives, the land, God and life itself.

Marissa Naranjo ( Santa Fe Prep Class of 2010): I was asking her and my grandma one day, during the dances what are they cause I couldn't - I can't really hear? They're like listen listen, go back to practice tonight. Listen to the Kiva and you will find out what the dances are all about.  I listened to the last song and I discovered that it was about sharing blessings with all of the people that were there and sharing blessings with the community members that were also dancing.

Laura Jagles (Mentor Self Study Program): My ancestors shame and mold. I hold north.  I hold south. I hold east. I hold west. I hold above. I hold below.

Marissa Naranjo ( Santa Fe Prep Class of 2010): The dance kind of incorporates that and it's kind of like you're waving your hands in way that you kind of not really push the blessings on to someone, but you include them.

Harlan Macasito: And then sometimes you know what? It gets so disheartening that I'm thinking, you know, what's the point?  Should we just give up on keeping our Native languages alive? You know, and then I come to my senses and then I think, you know what?  We have to continue to fight and use every available resource on earth to keep them alive for our future generations.  Right now I want to take you up to Sante Fe New Mexico and I want to welcome in Jordan Naranjo and Jordan is a senior, a twelfth grader at Sante Fe Indian school.  He is part of a self study program for learning the (indecipherable) language.  Jordan is from Santa Clara Pueblo.  Welcome to the program Jordan.

Jordan Naranjo: Hello

Harlan Macasito: Good to have you with us and thanks for taking the time to be here with us on today's program.  Tell me why you are interested in learning your tribal language.

Jordan Naranjo: I am interested in learning my tribal language because it's a part of who I am and without, I wouldn't know who I would be.  I want to be part of the community doings. I want to be able to communicate back with the elders. I wanna what exactly is there, they're trying to communicate with us.

Harlan Macasito: Mmm and how much time are you willing to put into this, because that seems to be the big question?

Jordan Naranjo: I am willing to put as much time available to me as I can into this. I am very motivated; I want to preserve my language.  I don't want it to disappear at all.

With language lies the culture and so a lot of people studying language loss know that if the language gradually declines, so will the culture. And similarly, where will the songs go, where will the preaching go if we don't have that language ?  

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