American Indian language program receives $90K grant

BY DARLA SLIPKE dslipke@opubco.com Published: June 10, 2011
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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.

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