NORMAN — Jim Hopper worries some young members of his tribe are facing a cultural identity crisis.
They want to know what it means to be Otoe-Missouria, but they don't understand the tribe's native language, Hopper said.
He hopes to change that.
“If they crave to know what it means to be Otoe, we want to have the material to support that craving for them,” Hopper said.
Last summer, Hopper attended an intensive, weeklong program called Oklahoma Breath of Life — Silent no More. The workshop, hosted at the University of Oklahoma's Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, was designed to give participants the tools they need to help revitalize American Indian languages that are endangered.
Organizers have received a $90,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue the program. They plan to host another workshop on May 20-25. It will be open to newcomers and returners, said Mary Linn, associate curator of Native American languages at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. She wrote the grant with Colleen Fitzgerald, chairman of the University of Texas at Arlington's Department of Linguistics and Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).
The project is modeled after a program at the University of California, Berkeley. It is designed to help tribes that want to preserve their language for future generations or that lack fluent speakers of their language, Linn said.
Often, those languages are mislabeled as extinct or dead, Linn said.
“They may be silent, but they can be spoken again,” Linn said.
National Geographic's Enduring Voices project categorized Oklahoma as a language hot spot with a high threat level. Oklahoma has the highest density of indigenous languages in the U.S., according to the project. Some of those languages were originally spoken in the area and others came to the area when tribes from the east were forced to move onto reservations in the state.
Oklahoma has about 40 American Indian languages and 11 language families, which can be as different as English is from Chinese, Linn said. She said all of those languages are endangered. Many younger generations have shifted to speaking English, Linn said.
During the workshop, linguists train participants how to use research materials and find resources.
Linn hopes the program will help tribes and linguists develop lasting partnerships. Eventually, she would like the program to become self-supporting.
Eight people from three tribes — Natchez, Osage and Otoe-Missouria — participated in the first workshop. Linn hopes more will attend next year.
Hopper, 28, is the youth leadership director for the Otoe-Missouria Tribe. A big part of the tribe's culture is language, Hopper said. Yet many people, aside from a few elders, don't know the language.
Hopper knew a few words before attending the 2010 workshop. Now he posts words around his home for his own children, ages 7 and 2, to see. He also incorporates language into youth programs he organizes.
“If we don't get the youth involved now, then it will be gone forever,” Hopper said.
For more information about the Oklahoma Breath of Life program, contact Linn at mslinn@