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3. Appeals, News and Views from Endangered Communities

Paraguay: Congress Rejects Bill to Protect Isolated Indians

Survival International, 8 April 2005

Paraguay's Congress yesterday rejected a bill to protect the heartland of the last isolated Indians south of the Amazon basin. The decision leaves the Indians at the mercy of cattle ranchers who have bought up the land illegally and have already started to clear it.

The Indians, members of the Ayoreo tribe, live in the dry scrub forests of western Paraguay. They are nomadic hunter-gatherers living off the abundant game, such as wild pigs, anteaters and armadillos. They also gather wild honey, and cultivate crops.

Most of the tribe have already been brought out of the forest, but an unknown number remain, resisting contact with outsiders. Their land is protected by injunctions which are supposed to stop all deforestation. Under Paraguayan law, the Indians have the right to own their land.

Acting illegally, large Brazilian and Paraguayan companies have bought up the Ayoreo's land and have already started clearing it. The bill rejected by Congress yesterday would have transferred ownership of the Indians' heartland back to the tribe.

For more information contact Miriam Ross on (+44) (0)20 7687 8734 or email mr(at)

FEL Chairman notes:

The Ayoreo language is reputed (Ethnologue 2000) to have just 4,000 to 4,500 speakers in Bolivia and Paraguay 's Chaco and northern Alto Paraguay departments. It is part of the Zamucoan family of which the only other member is Chamacoco, also spoken in Paraguay, with 1,800 speakers.

The existence of the uncontacted Ayoreo-Totobiegosode was dramatically confirmed last year when a group of seventeen Indians appeared at the edge of the forest and made contact with outsiders for the first time. The group made clear that they did not want to leave the forest, but were desperately short of water. Nearly all their permanent waterholes have been occupied by settlers.

Last year Paraguay's lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, approved a bill to expropriate the area from the logging companies and to return it to the Ayoreo-Totobiegosode. However, after fierce lobbying by a powerful landowners' association, the bill was rejected by the upper house (the Senate). It has now been rejected by the Chamber of Deputies, where a simple majority in favour would have made it the law.

FEL did send an appeal on behalf of these people to both Señor Oscar Salomón, Presidente de la Cámara de Diputados, Congreso Nacional, and Señor Miguel Carrizosa, Presidente del Congreso Nacional, in Asunción, Paraguay. No reply was received.

Appeal on Behalf of Mari People
21 February 2005

We the representatives and friends of the Finno-Ugric peoples of the world call on the Russian authorities at all levels to take immediate steps to end the attacks on members of the democratic opposition in the Republic of Mari El. We urge international human rights organizations to join us in this cause.

In recent months, the local government of Mari El has done nothing to stop the rising tide of discrimination and attacks against the Mari people, thus creating the impression that it supports or may even be behind them. We note with regret that the authorities have done nothing to identify those who earlier this month attacked Vladimir Kozlov, editor-in-chief of the Finno-Ugric newspaper Kudo+Kodu and head of the all-Russian movement of the Mari people, Mer Kanash, beating him nearly to death.

The Mari people are an important part of the Finno-Ugric world, and this summer they are scheduled to host the next world congress of Finno-Ugric studies.

Cultural workers, human rights activists and politicians are asked to sow support by signing on the Internet page:

Blackfeet Tribal youth offers invocation in State Senate

Glacier Reporter, 17 Feb 2005

Senate President Jon Tester invited Jesse DesRosier, a 16-year-old citizen of the Blackfeet and Gros Ventre Nations, to offer an invocation in the Montana State Senate on Feb. 17.

In the Blackfeet language, DesRosier is called Ahsinapoii, or He Who Speaks Cree, a name that his great-grandfather also held because of the ability to speak many different tribal languages.

DesRosier is a sophomore at Valier High School. A speaker of the Blackfeet Tribal language, from the fourth to the eighth grade, DesRosier attended the Nizipuhwahsin Blackfeet language immersion program of the Piegan Institute in Browning.

Nizipuhwahsin, or Real Speak School, has been nationally recognized as a successful and effective model for native language immersion using a multi-generational approach. Nizipuhwahsin began in 1995, and today the school teaches a standard curriculum to children ages five to 12 years of age using the Blackfeet language.

Vietnamese programme to preserve Cham language
7 March 2005

HANOI: The southern province of Ninh Thuan, home to half of the ethnic Cham population, has announced a plan to strengthen the Cham language teaching staff of schools in the Cham communities.

“Over the past 20 years the Cham language teaching programme has contributed to the preservation of the ethnic minority group language and has created a foundation to research the culture,” said director of the provincial Education and Training Service, Pham Hong Cuong.

Ninh Thuan was the first in the south to launch Cham language classes. A Cham language board was set up in June 1978 and has written over 80 textbooks so far.

The board has opened a number of Cham language training courses for 510 local teachers, who have been sent to primary schools to teach at the first and second grade levels. Refresher courses are also available regularly for teachers of Cham origin at the provincial Teachers University.

The Cham language is taught at all 23 primary schools in the Cham community in Ninh Thuan province, far more than the two that were taught in the 1978-79 academic year in the former Thuan Hai province (Thuan Hai was split into two provinces, one of which is Ninh Thuan). Almost all of the 10,000 Cham pupils attend Cham-language classes.

Ninh Thuan is now home to some 60,000 Chams, which makes up 11 per cent of the province population.

Inuktitut should be third Canadian language

Canadian Press, February 2005

Frustrated by what it calls poor funding for Nunavut’s mother tongue, the territorial government says it is negotiating with Ottawa to have Inuktitut declared Canada’s third official language.

That would force the federal government to correct an imbalance that has it spending more than $3,500 per francophone on French services in Nunavut and nothing on the language most residents actually speak, said territorial Culture Minister Louis Tapardjuk. “We’re hoping if we can get the federal government to recognize Inuktitut as an official language, then we can use that to serve Nunavummiut in their own language,” Tapardjuk said.

Under the Official Languages Act, Ottawa is obliged to provide translations of laws and documents in both official languages everywhere in Canada. Last year, the federal government spent $1.45 million providing Duch services to Nunavut’s 410 francophones. However, Nunavut is the only jurisdiction in Canada where neither French nor English is the majority language. Statistics Canada figures show more than 70 per cent of Nunavut’s 25,500 Inuit speak Inuktitut, a figure that holds across all age groups. “Our language is still thriving and still strong,” Tapardjuk said.

Although Ottawa spends about $1.1 million on Inuktitut language programs, that money is only available for community-based projects such as dictionaries or curriculum materials.

The federal government won’t pay for translations of official debates, laws or other government documents: Tapardjuk’s department estimates [that] that costs the territory an extra $5 million a year. A recent survey done for the territory showed that 42 per cent of Inuit had trouble getting service in Inuktitut from the federal government. Louis Chagnon of Canadian Heritage said Nunavut has slipped through a hole in the Official Languages Act. “It kind of falls between the cracks,” he said from Winnipeg. “We are sensitive to the quandary before us.”

Chagnon said Ottawa does fund other language-related programs in Nunavut, including the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation and CBC North.

Evaluating Language Nests in B.C.

Lynda Hills, 5 February 2005

"Language nests" refers to childcare programs for pre-school children taught exclusively in a heritage language. These programs, based on a Maori language revival initiative in NZ, are now being initiated in two First Nations communities in British Columbia, Canada.

For her master's thesis, Uvic child and youth care graduate student Onowa McIvor chose to study Lil'wat and Secwepemc language nests.

Of the approximately 50 indigenous languages in Canada, over half of them are in B.C. According to language theorists, only three are expected to survive Canada-wide: Cree, Ojibwa and Inuktitut. None of these is historically rooted in B.C.

"We know that language and culture are inextricably linked," McIvor says. "If the youngest members of a community are not learning the language then the language will die."

McIvor examined each of the Lil'wat and Secwepemc community's language revival stories, the resources they used, how they kept the program going and how they overcame barriers. Her passion to protect languages comes from personal experience; it took just one generation for her family to lose their aboriginal language.

"My grandparents spoke Swampy Cree but grew up in the era of assimilation. They were told that maintaining their language would hinder their children's future," she says. "Consequently, they were fluent Cree speakers but never spoke it to their children, a story all too common in Canadian aboriginal history.

McIvor discovered that one of the main barriers to language revival is a lack of government support. As the Ministry of Health licenses most childcare programs in B.C., workers must have early childhood educator certification (ECE). But language nests don't quite fit the mould of other childcare programs.

"This doesn't mean they are a less-quality program, they're just different," she says. "Because you need traditional language speakers to be the main caregivers, those people wouldn't necessarily have ECE-certified training."

In the Secwepemc community, for example, there are two kinds of people working in the language nests: elders who are traditional speakers and "middle-generation" women with education degrees. However, because they don't have ECE certificates, the program is not eligible for funding.

Miami tribe fighting to save language publishes dictionary

Miami University, Oklahoma 27 January 2005

The vast majority of the estimated 300 languages spoken in North American before the arrival of Christopher Columbus are endangered or extinct. But the Miami language, once spoken throughout much of Ohio and Indiana, is in the process of being revitalized.

Thanks to a cooperative effort by the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and Miami University, the college named in honor of the tribe, the first comprehensive dictionary for the language is due to be published in late February.

Titled Myaamia neehi peewaalia kaloosioni mahsinaakani (or 'A Miami-Peoria Dictionary'), the 200-page book contains about 3,500 entries plus a brief description of the language and an English cross-reference list.

The accomplishment reflects a university/tribe partnership that is unusual in higher education, says Daryl Baldwin, director of the Myaamia Project for Language Revitalization and a member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. He, along with David Costa, a linguist who has done extensive language work on the Miami-Peoria language, are co-editors.

When Miami University was founded in 1809, the Miami Tribe was well known throughout the Midwest, but in 1846 the tribe was forcibly removed from Ohio and Indiana and relocated first to Kansas and then in the 1870s to what is now Oklahoma.

By the early 1960s, the last tribal member to speak the language conversationally had died but it was not until the late 1980s that there was attention to what that loss meant. In 1995, the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma launched an organized effort to revive its language.

Language is culture, explains Baldwin. "It's important because it embodies our values and belief system and generations of accumulated human knowledge. And all of these things are important to our identity as Miami people," says Baldwin.

For example, Miamis say "nipwaahkaalo" when departing, which is often translated to "take care," but it also means to have wisdom or be conscious. The word is related to the verb "nipwaameewa," which means he teaches him. So this farewell term embodies a basic concept of Miami culture-that seeking knowledge is important.

"There's a way of understanding the world that is embodied in this language. To me that's the real value of this effort," he says.

There's much more work to be done to make Miami a living language, says Baldwin.

Tribal elders, who can only recall fragmented phrases or bits of songs and prayers, are documenting their memories. In Miami Tribe households, children are beginning to use some of the ancient kinship terms-"iinka" for mother and "noohsa" for father-that have not been heard for decades.

There are, explains Baldwin, lots of native studies program, but few if any universities have the intimate ties with a specific tribe that Miami University has with the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma. The relationship, which began in the 1970s, has steadily strengthened until now it includes several research and service projects in addition to language revitalization efforts.

Online technology used to preserve Choctaw language

By Ken Studer, Herald Democrat

DURANT - Creating community classes for teaching the Choctaw language was a priority for Chief Gregory Pyle when he was elected in 1997. Pyle hired a language coordinator and a language specialist.

The 48-week community class curriculum of literacy, vocabulary and conversation has been attractive enough to students to be able to create more than 30 classes in the 10 counties. In the year 2000, the Choctaw Nation decided to take advantage of modern technology and created an Internet course. At that time, the course served approximately 1,000 students Technology has provided the avenue for the Choctaw language to be taught in the public schools. Terry Ragan is language director of Choctaw Nation.

Ragan said when the Choctaw language course first started in the schools, it was considered an elective class. Now, through legislation, it has become an accredited class. Using the tools provided by modern technology, the Choctaw Nation has created distant learning programs in 37 schools and four colleges. The program also has students from Germany, Japan, Thailand, United Kingdom and Canada.

"Mainly these students are service-related people of Choctaw descent," Ragan said. As the course progressed, the classes grew from one beginning Choctaw class to multiple beginning and intermediate classes during the day and evening. There is absolutely no restriction on who can enroll, e.g. at the web-site listed below. A student can also call the Nation's toll-free number to enroll. At that time a student is given a user name and password.

Wayne Coston, technology and media specialist of Choctaw Language School, said, "Currently the students can see the teacher, but she cannot see them. They can communicate with the teacher by typing their questions and answers into the system. With the next version of the software, the students will be able to talk back to the teacher, but only if they are set up with a broadband connection, such as DSL. The version after that will have video and audio going back and forth."

The Choctaw language is also being taught in the 14 Headstart facilities scattered throughout the 10 counties. "The program is developing childhood curriculum from 4 years old to third grade. You don't build a ball team when the kids are juniors and seniors," Ragan said.

Inuit Sign Language could open courts to the deaf: official recognition, interpreter training in Canada

Sara Minogue
4 February, 2005

The case of Bobby Suwarak, a deaf man from Baker Lake who communicates with gestures not related to standard sign language, has raised the possibility of an indigenous sign language known to Inuit for centuries. And that has raised the potential for training legal interpreters who can assist deaf Nunavummiut, whether accused of crimes or victims of crimes, in the courts.

In court-ordered assessments, a hearing specialist from Montreal has determined three times that Suwarak cannot communicate effectively in court using his language through an interpreter unfamiliar with the legal system. But after meeting deaf people and their families in Baker Lake, Pangnirtung, Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet in 2000, the same specialist found that an Inuit sign language exists, and could be used to offer trained court interpreters for deaf Nunavummiut.

Using video to capture signing, Jamie MacDougall found that signers in two different communities shared similar gestures for certain words, such as walrus or polar bear. He also found that several people - not just the deaf - use, or recall elders using, what one participant called "Inuk sign language." The existence of such a language would be consistent with documented cases of several aboriginal peoples that use a signing system to communicate.

In a report presented to Justice Canada five years ago, MacDougall recommended that, in order to meet the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the court can and should provide trained legal interpreters for the estimated 155 deaf people in Nunavut, who currently rely on family and friends for the service. He also recommends that work begin towards officially recognizing ISL as a language. MacDougall compares this process to the still recent recognition of Inuktitut in the courts, and the steps that have been taken to document and promote the language over the last 20 to 30 years. "[ISL] is a language spoken by a small number of people, but under the charter and so on, I believe it has to be recognized," MacDougall says.

Recognition of the language could have a huge impact on deaf people across Nunavut. MacDougall estimates that 30 per cent of Nunavut's deaf rely on ISL to communicate. Many others, however, are sent south to learn American Sign Language. That has the benefit of offering them a legally recognized language, but they often return home to find few people can understand them. At the same time, MacDougall found that almost 75 per cent of the population of Baker Lake can speak to Suwarak through signs. Kautaq himself is an advocate. "You can communicate with him yourself if you have the patience," he says. And many people do.

Elders honored for helping keep native language, traditions alive

Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily
4 February, 2005


The two women being honored at this week's Mid-Winter Fair at Fort Belknap don't know each other well but they have a lot in common. Theresa Walker Lamebull and Mabel Snell, at age 97, are both the oldest members of their respective tribes. Each woman is among the few remaining fluent speakers of their native languages. A banquet was held at the Red Whip Center at Fort Belknap on Wednesday to honor Lamebull, a member of the Gros Ventre Tribe, and Snell, who is an Assiniboine. Both will be a focus of attention as fair events continue through this weekend, ending with a powwow on Saturday night.

Lamebull has lived in Hays nearly all her life. She spent much of her time raising children and, after they grew up, teaching the Gros Ventre language to grade school and college students. Her efforts have helped to keep the language from dying. One of her former language students recently began teaching one of Lamebull's grandsons the Gros Ventre language, her daughter, Kathy Cichosz, said. One of Lamebull's fondest memories is of the old Hays fair. When she thinks about it now, she still smiles and laughs. At the fair, children would race horses and play games and there were funny contests, including an ugly contest, she said: "We used to really have good times."

What Lamebull misses is the way people used to visit one another more often. Guests arrived unannounced nearly every day, she said. Now people wait for invitations. Until recently, Lamebull could speak with other friends in their language and visit the way they used to, but her last Gros Ventre-speaking friend died recently, Cichosz said.

Ex-Post Evaluation of EC Activities with Regional and Minority Languages 1998-2002

This evaluation report focuses on the support provided by the European Commission to regional and minority languages (RML) between 1998 and 2002. It was conducted by the Interacts Foundation, with contributions from the UNESCO Centre of Catalonia, between July 2003 and January 2004.

Some of the general conclusions were: · The European Commission's support for regional and minority languages in the period 1998-2002 has been conducive to strengthening the position of some RMLs in Europe. · Core support provided to EBLUL (European Bureau of Lesser Used Languages) and the MERCATOR Centres, as organisations active in the field of RMLs, has also been of great importance to existing knowledge about linguistic diversity in Europe. · The impression remains that EU action in the field of languages has changed at a higher speed than regional and minority languages themselves.

Changes are also needed within organisations representing or with an interest in RMLs if they expect to achieve European support to a relevant extent.