NORMAN — Young American Indians representing more than 20 tribes gathered at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History this week for the 10th annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair.
American Indian communities place a high value on culture, oratory skills and creativity through expression, and the fair provides a venue for young people to share the knowledge of their ancestors and speak their native languages publicly.
During the fair Monday and Tuesday, participants submitted their works and displayed their talents before a panel of judges. About 600 performers came this year.
The fair also provides students with peer support and new ideas for language learning, organizers said.
In the master performers group category, Riverside Indian School from Arizona won first place, making its first trip to the fair.
The O'odham Traditonal dancers from the school performed a traditional dance.
“I was really nervous at first when I was about to take the stage, but then I just closed my eyes, imagined my ancestors being present, and just let go. I think that's what really made the performance memorable for me, just being able to clear my mind and perform.” said Riverside student Cameron Peters, 17.
Among the special guests was Marjorie Linne Tahbone, the 2012 Miss World Indian. She represents two tribes, Kiowa and Inupiaq, and is a student at the University of Fairbanks, Alaska, where she pursues her passion of learning more about the Inuit culture.
“This is my first time to be at this fair, and the amount of students and teachers in attendance was just amazing. It's really hard to find a favorite part of the past two days, but if I had to choose one thing, it would be seeing the young people get to use their language publicly and be able to embrace it in an environment where it is sacred and appreciated,” Tahbone said.
“This is one of my favorite events of the year that happens in Oklahoma. It brings such joy to me to see the youth have an interest in their culture. My grandfather once told me that language is who you are,” said fair coordinator Christine Armer, a Cherokee language professor at the University of Oklahoma. “If the now generation takes it upon themselves to represent the importance of language, I think there's hope that the cultural values in Native American language will be around for many generations to come.”
The fair first took place in April 2003, with nearly 200 people in attendance. It was organized by Geneva Navarro, a Comanche educator, Quinton Roman Nose, a Cheyenne, and the museum's Native American languages curator, Mary Linn.
The categories have expanded since the first fair, from spoken language, language with song and dance and poster art on a language theme, to nine categories.
Languages represented at the fair included Apache, Arapaho, Cayuga, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Comanche, Coushatta, Dakota, Euchee (Yuchi), Hasinai (Caddo), Ho-Chunk, Jiwere (Otoe), Kanza (Kaw), Keres, Kickapoo, Kiowa, Mohawk, Mvskoke (Creek), Navajo, Osage, Pawnee, Pima, Prairie Band Potawatomi, Sauk, Seminole, Seneca, Shawnee, Shoshone, Ute, Wichita and Zuni.