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Efforts to restore indigenous languages ​​revitalize cultures, histories and identities

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Myaamia Heritage Program students receive lessons from Daryl Baldwin, executive director of the Myaamia Center at the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio. Scott Kissell, University of Miami, CC BY-ND

When the federal government established boarding schools in the 19th century to assimilate Native American children into American culture, one of its goals was to discourage Native American children from using their mother tongue. In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day in the United States, The Conversation is dedicated to Daryl Baldwin, citizen of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, Native American language and cultural revitalization leader, and member of the National Council for the Humanities. I sought insight from Mr. Participated in tribal community efforts working with universities to revive the language.

How were indigenous languages ​​lost?

Many actions throughout history have put pressure on tribal communities to abandon the use of their language. This includes forced assimilation resulting from the Indian Civilization Act of 1819. The Act established Indian boarding schools that taught subjects such as mathematics and science while curbing the use of indigenous languages ​​and cultures.

Boarding schools continued into the mid-20th century, and their impact was devastating to Indigenous communities and their languages. Linguists estimate that there were 300 indigenous languages ​​spoken in what is now the United States before European settlement. Communities struggle to pass these languages ​​on to younger generations.

These affected communities include the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, of which I am a citizen. The Miami lost their last speakers of Myaamia in the mid-20th century due to these assimilation efforts. In addition, the forced migration of tribes from their homelands of Ohio and Indiana to Kansas and eventually Oklahoma in the 19th century left some families behind or exempt from migration, leaving the community fragmented. has been transformed.

These factors also increased the stress for communities simply to survive. Many tribal members and elders of this era say that they did not pass on the language to their children for fear of discrimination.

Why revive the language?

Simply put, our language helps us get back on track. When you empower your cultural self by speaking a language, you begin to undo the damage caused by years of cultural and linguistic suppression.

Language and cultural revitalization is a priority for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. We devote significant time and money to educational programs that help tribal citizens reconnect with their cultural heritage.

When we engage in revitalization activities, we are able to weave a body of knowledge, cultural practices, and other ways of life into our lives and draw upon them as a source of strength for our communities. This covers all aspects of our lives: art, games, food, and even songs and dances. For many of us, the Myaamia language is central to this process.

Since 1972, the University of Miami has been a key partner in the process of linguistic and cultural revitalization. The Miamia Center, the tribal research arm, directly supports the Miamia Heritage Program. This program offers Miami students a tuition waiver and a unique opportunity to work on their cultural heritage while earning a college degree.

What practical uses are these languages ​​useful for?

Language was an important aspect of my home when my four children were young.what can be said Tipa Alilani – “I love you” – and singing bedtime songs to the children – Kielsuwa NeewakiKiresuwa Neewita… – “I can see the moon, the moon is watching me…” – was important to me in my native language.

Speaking my language connects me with my ancestral homeland, which is now part of Ohio and Indiana. Doing so strengthens my relationships with close relatives who speak the same language and allows me to communicate in a way that is unique to my culture. My language may not be practical for mainstream work or navigating the world, but it is important to my identity as a Burmese. I feel grounded when I can speak a language.

The Myaamia Center’s Nipwaayoni Acquisition and Evaluation Team has been evaluating the program since 2012 and noted that Myaamia students regularly comment on how important speaking their language is to their identity. discovered.

2021 graduate Myaamia student Jenna Corral describes her experience: Little did she know that she would be able to learn and speak the language developed by her ancestors. I am eternally grateful for all I have learned about my heritage and culture and the positive impact it has had on my life. ”

How do students benefit from learning these languages?

Internal evaluation studies show that Myaamia youth participating in language and cultural revitalization programs are more engaged in tribal activities. Participation has continued to grow over the past 20 years, partly due to increased tribal registration due to language and cultural revitalization. Engagement is increasing because people want to be involved and part of what’s happening. About 1,000 citizens have grown over the past five years, and the current number of registered he has grown to 6,780. This is an important development as we believe youth engagement is critical to the future growth of tribal nations.

Myaamia students have been at the University of Miami since 1991. There was a 56% graduation rate for students who attended before the creation of the Myaamia Heritage Course, which allows students to explore her Myaamia heritage. Since the course was added in 2003, her six-year graduation rate at our school has risen to 92% of his. That’s more than double his 41% six-year graduation rate for Native Americans nationwide. In addition, 106 MiaMia students have completed degrees at the University of Miami.

We believe the growth of the tribal program developed by the Tribal Cultural Resources Office, the creation of the Myaamia Center, and the further development of the heritage program are the driving forces behind this dramatic increase in the graduation rate.

How will these languages ​​be preserved in the future?

Just as the boarding school days were designed to strip away language and culture, our tribal efforts can restore what was taken away.

However, these efforts require financial resources. Some feel that the federal government bears some financial responsibility in revitalizing these languages. because it was The federal government spent her US$2.81 billion (inflation-adjusted) on supporting boarding schools in India, but only a fraction of that amount on revitalizing indigenous languages ​​today.

Partnerships between tribes and universities are powerful in building responses to the inequalities that have emerged throughout recent history. Yes, language is an important part of our work, but ultimately it’s about knowledge, who holds that knowledge, and how it’s expressed through its own language and culture. , is one such model.

This article is republished from The Conversation, an independent, non-commercial news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Darryl Wade Baldwin, University of MiamiSubscribe to our weekly newsletter if you find it interesting.

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Darryl Wade Baldwin is the executive director of the Myrmere Center at the University of Miami. He has received funding from the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, the University of Miami, the Mellon Foundation, and the Robert Wood His Johnson Foundation. He is currently a member of the National Council for the Humanities and a board member of the Endangered Languages ​​Fund.