No one knows the sacrifices necessary to save a language better than students and educators. They are the fearless, dedicated leaders who are at the forefront of language learning and preservation in their communities. As we are wrapping up 2015, we want to highlight some of the hard-working and inspiring individuals we work with in communities across Indian Country.
Lakota Elder and teacher Ben Black Bear is only one example of the remarkable lengths that some educators are willing to go to save their languages. Ben is one of the most respected Lakota speakers in the world.
On weekdays, he teaches Lakota children their language at St. Francis Mission School. On weekends, Ben often travels from his home on the Rosebud reservation to promote Lakota, sometimes driving over 5 hours each way to record for Lakota language-learning materials. He is working hard to leave a legacy for his grandchildren. Learn more about Ben’s work by watching the video below:
“The culture is contained in the language. So if students speak the language, they know their culture, they know where they come from; they know the history of their people.”
Ben Black Bear has traveled thousands of miles to save his language. How far would you go?
Lisa Casarez is a 29-year old member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara (MHA) Nation, a Communications student at the University of North Dakota and a mother who is committed to reclaiming the Hidatsa language.
Like many students, Lisa has to juggle school and family life. Whether it’s studying for her university exams, caring for her 3 year-old daughter or running errands, she’s constantly keeping busy.
But Lisa is also completely committed to learning and preserving Hidatsa, which has less than 100 speakers left.
Despite the challenge, she is on a mission to become fluent in the language, to teach it to her daughter, and to make it thrive in her community by creating more media resources. Lisa is fundraising to create a Hidatsa apprenticeship; she is working with a local non-profit to establish a Native Cultural center, and she is also promoting the language actively through social media.
“Hidatsa language and culture are the greatest gifts we have to offer as a people to our youth.”
Lisa has gone to great lengths to save her language. How far would you go?
Dora Hugs is a Crow teacher at the St. Charles Indian Mission School in Pryor, Montana.
Dora began teaching Crow language and culture in the 1970s as a teacher’s aid. Since then, she’s changed the lives of hundreds of students from Pre-K to 8th grade, and, together with her husband Jerome Hugs Sr., raised her own four children to speak Crow.
But throughout her years of teaching, Dora has noticed a clear decline in the use of Crow; nowadays, more and more kids are using a mixture of Crow-English to communicate with each other. Even so, Dora takes each opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of her students and encourages them to continue speaking Crow.
“When a people lose their culture and tradition, they first lose their language. That’s why it’s important for us to teach the language the way we are teaching it now.”
Dora has devoted 35 years of her life to preserve the Crow language. How far would you go?
There are currently 216 living languages in the U.S., but 93% of those languages are endangered. Native American languages like Crow, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara, and Lakota are at the heart of the cultures to which they belong. These languages connect speakers to their roots, give speakers a sense of pride, and a sense of self. In Native communities, revival and reclamation of languages is becoming a way to fight poor graduation rates and participation in schools, suicide epidemics, and unemployment.
- Help Ben Black Bear honor his father’s legacy bu making an updated rendition of “Songs and Dances of the Lakota”.
- Create a Level 3 Hidatsa textbook and audio CD for Lisa Casarez and her 3 year-old daughter.
- Help The Language Conservancy finish the Crow Online Dictionary, giving Dora Hugs’ students the support they need to learn Crow.
For 10 years we have provided more than 20,000 students and 300 teachers from 12 tribes and numerous schools with the means to advance their language and teaching skills. But, we need YOUR help to continue restoring indigenous languages to stability and health! Make a tax-deductible gift today.
Support the language revitalization movement and share this post with your friends and family! For other tips and ways you can get involved visit this page. Thank you for your continuous support, passion, and dedication to the preservation of indigenous languages. Have a safe and happy New Year!
We thank you!