Keeping Native American Language Alive: How to Term Paper

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Keeping Native American Language Alive:

How to Save Them and Why This is a paper that deals with preserving the Native American Language. There are eight references used for this paper.

The Native American Language is rapidly disappearing and there are numerous people and groups, including the United States government, working to revive and preserve this important part of American culture. The language differs from tribe to tribe and it's interesting to look at how each one is preserving their history, as well as exploring why many Native American languages are in danger of extinction.

Vanishing Languages

At the time Columbus discovered America, 1.5 million Native Americans spoke in the 300 to 600 languages of their tribes. Today, only 211 of these languages still exist, with only 32 of them spoken by all ages. Of the Native American languages that are still spoken, "more that half are spoken by fewer than 1,000 persons per language (Columbia Encyclopedia)."

There are a couple of exceptions such as the Cherokee with over 50,000 speakers and the Navajo which, with 150,000 speakers, is used more than any other Native American language (Columbia Encyclopedia).

The elderly members of the tribes are usually the only ones who continue to speak in their native language (saving a culture, 2002).

Researchers predict "in a few years everyone will speak English, Mandarin, and Spanish

Wuethrich)." One reason is because most endangered languages do not have distinctions such adjectives between nouns.

Another reason is "documenting endangered languages is an extremely time-consuming process (" Unfortunately, some languages will disappear without ever being documented because most linguists find this work tedious (

In the beginning of 2002, there were 15 people who could speak fluent Ojibwe in Wisconsin. By June, that number had dwindled to 13, proving time is running out for members of this tribe (Nijhuis 11).

The Eyak tongue, which has been around for over three millennia, and began the Navaho, Apache and Athabaskan languages, is also in danger of disappearing. Though, the few remaining speakers of the language hope to keep it alive, most members of the tribe show little interest in preserving this part of their culture (Bartholet 62). Two other Native American languages that are in danger of vanishing are Mohawk and Salish (Wuethrich).

The Role the Government Played

The United States government played a major role in the extinction of many Native American languages. For years, the government tried unsuccessfully to institute policies that would get rid of all Native American languages and customs (saving a culture, 2002).

The government felt the Indian's language was inferior and if it could get rid of the Indian's identity, there would be little resistance when they took over the Indian's land (Bartholet 62).

In 1887, the secretary of the interior determined it would be detrimental to the Indian's "education and civilization (saving a culture, 2002)" if they continued using their native language, and refused to allow any school on a reservation that didn't teach English exclusively.

Indian children were sent to federal boarding schools until the 1950's and punished severely if they spoke in their native language. Though the Indians were forced to Westernize, they refused to let their language die (saving a culture, 2002).

Preserving a Culture Through Immersion

The Blackfeet Indians are aggressively working to preserve their language as a means to preserve their culture. Until recently, only a few hundred elderly Blackfeet spoke their native language, and this number was steadily decreasing with each one's death (saving a culture, 2002).

The Blackfeet Indians have started a school on their reservation called "The Nizipuhwahsin Center (saving a culture, 2002)," that teaches 30 students in grades kindergarten to eighth-grade. The school, named for the original language of the Blackfeet Indians-Nizipuhwahsin, teaches almost all of the lessons including geometry, art and greetings, through a method called immersion (Nijhuis 11).

The students are immersed continuously in the Blackfeet language and culture while at the school. Though the dropout rate is 60% at the public school, there is a waiting list for prospective students at the Nizipuhwahsin Center.

The students are proud of their school and, though they may not realize it, may be instrumental in saving the Blackfeet language and culture from extinction (saving a culture, 2002).

The graduates from the school are the "first young fluent speakers of the Blackfeet language in a generation (Nijhuis 11)" and talk about the importance of preserving the language by passing it down to their own kids and grandkids one day.

The school has helped the economy in the town of Browning, where it is located. The resurgence of the language has helped instill pride in the Blackfeet, leading them to buy a bottled water company, create their own bank, and take control of a cable company. The subsequent growth of the economy has lead to an increase in new businesses and homes. The school has also made the public schools in the area realize the importance of changing the curriculum to include the Blackfeet culture and language.

The Blackfeet aren't the only tribe working to preserve their language and culture. Representatives of 60 reservations from around the country have traveled to the school to learn how to start their own programs in an effort to preserve Native American languages. In northern Wisconsin, there is already an Ojibwe-language immersion school.

The Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara tribes in North Dakota recently received a herd of buffalo for an after-school program.

While caring for the animals, the children are learning not only about their culture, but their language as well (saving a culture, 2002).

Hearing, Healing and Benefits

Native Americans are finding when they hear their language, they are motivated to learn it and keep it alive. At a recent Ojibwe powwow, a 6-year-old said a prayer in her native language and the over 500 people in attendance felt an emotional and spiritual healing (Nijhuis 11).

Also, when a language is heard, it can give an insight into what the person is thinking, just by listening to the individual's changes in tone (

Tribe members are finding it's beneficial to be multilingual. Since the language contains views of life that are over 10,000 years old, those who don't know how to speak the native languages are looked at "as less prepared for the world (Nijhuis 11)."

The Native Americans have "knowledge about plants and animals and special words to describe them (" This information may be beneficial to scientists or drug companies one day, thus creating a great need for multilingual individuals.

Unfortunately, "when a native language dies, valuable information about local fauna and flora often dies with it (Bartholet 62)."

Native Americans aren't the only ones who are working to preserve dying Indian languages and cultures. Colleges around the country are offering courses in Native American studies. The University of California-Davis offers one of the finest programs in the country, where students gain a better understanding of Native American languages and ideas. The program is designed to give the Indians greater respect and dignity while helping them maintain their traditions and language (Schneider). The Michigan State University began offering a course in the Ojibwe language in 2000 as part of their new Native American studies program.

The University is hoping to help revitalize the vanishing language and help students gain a better understanding of the Native American people (Harrison).

Different Languages

The Native American languages are classified into six major groups that are unrelated.

The Eskimo-Aleut is used mainly in Alaska. The Algonquian-Wakashan was once a widespread language throughout the United States, but now is mainly seen in the Northern border states and Oklahoma.

The Nadene is mainly spoken in Alaska, while the Penutian is native to California and the Pacific Northwest.

The Hokan-Siouan covers areas that include Florida, Oklahoma, Arizona, California, New York, Wisconsin and North…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Bartholet, Jeffrey, Tony Clifton, Elizabeth Bryant and Scott Johnson. "The Sounds of Silence."

Newsweek International. (2000): 19 June. Pp. 62.

Harrison, Sheena. "Michigan State U. adopts American Indian Studies Program." University

Wire. (2000): 24 August.

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