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7. Overheard on the Web

Akaka Introduces Legislation to Perpetuate Native American Languages
27 April 2006

Mr. President, I rise today to introduce a bill that would amend the Native American Languages Act (NALA) that was enacted into law on October 30, 1990, to promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native American languages. Since 1990, awareness and appreciation of Native languages has grown. Continued action and investment in the preservation of Native languages is needed. I am pleased to be joined by my colleague, Senator Daniel K. Inouye, as we seek to improve the cultural and educational opportunities available to Native Americans throughout our nation.

Historians and linguists estimate that there were more than 300 distinct Native languages at the time of first European contact with North America. Today, there are approximately 155 Native languages that remain and 87 percent of those languages have been classified as deteriorating or nearing extinction. Native communities across the country are being significantly impacted as individuals fluent in a Native language are passing away. These speakers are not only important in perpetuating the language itself, but also serve as repositories of invaluable knowledge pertaining to customs and traditions, as well as resource use and management.

The Native American Languages Act Amendments Act of 2006 would amend NALA to authorize the Secretary of Education to provide funds to establish Native American Language Nest and Survival School programs. Nest and Survival School programs are site-based education programs conducted through a Native American language. These programs have played an integral role in bringing together elders and youth to cultivate and perpetuate Native American languages. My bill would establish at least four demonstration programs in geographically diverse locations to provide assistance to Nest and Survival Schools and participate in a national study on the linguistic, cultural, and academic effects of Native American Language Nest and Survival Schools. Demonstration programs would be authorized to establish endowments for furthering activities related to the study and preservation of Native American languages and to use funds to provide for the rental, lease, purchase, construction, maintenance, and repair of facilities.

As Americans, it is our responsibility to perpetuate our Native languages that have shaped our collective identity and contributed to our history. For example, during World War II, the United States employed Native American Code Talkers who developed secret means of communication based on Native languages. The actions of the Code Talkers were critical to our winning the war and to saving numerous lives. My legislation would serve as another opportunity for our country to acknowledge and ensure that our future will be enhanced by the contributions of Native language and culture.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation to enhance the cultural and educational opportunities for Native Americans and Native American language speaking individuals.

Language Retention Ignites Young Entrepreneurs Vision

A January 2004 paper by Indian Affairs and Heritage Canada explored the survival and maintenance of Aboriginal languages and concluded only three of about 50 languages were not in danger of being lost forever.

According to the paper, “From Generation to Generation: Survival and Maintenance of Canada’s Aboriginal Languages within Families, Communities and Cities, “Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut are the largest and most wide spread languages. And young entrepreneur Clayton R. Ogden, 26, originally from Mishkeegogamang wants to make sure that the numerous Ojibway and Oji-Cree dialects in northern Ontario stay strong.

Ogden is aiming to have each school in Treaty 3 and Nishnawbe Aski Nation outfitted with Anishinabe language materials for children; which will be “tailored made” to each community’s dialect.

“I love business,” the young entrepreneur explained of his pursuit. “Business is my life. But it’s not just about business; it’s about doing something for the people. I’ve always wanted to make a significant contribution to the Anishinabe people and I feel this is how.”

Ogden spent three years at Confederation College in Thunder Bay studying business. After completing his education, he settled back in Grassy Narrows where he spent the bulk of his youth, and it was there during a teaching stint that Ogden first got the idea to develop Aboriginal language materials for schools.

“While I was working there, I noticed there were no materials and everyone kept talking about how bad they needed materials. So, I thought to myself, I’m going to produce the materials.”

Inspired, Ogden began producing materials on his laptop. Six months later, Ogden had developed a wide variety of materials such as a selection of children’s spelling books, flashcards and items for walls of classrooms.

Ogden hit his first hurdle when he tried selling his newly developed material to schools within Treaty 3.

“I tried selling the materials and found out that each school and community has their own dialect.

“This is where the first failure hurdle came in due to a lack of capital. This was extremely hard on the business and on me. “I then went back and redid my marketing plan and also found my new goal of offering each school the option of ordering materials, which are developed specifically for their children and developed with their very own dialects.”

Operating under the name Oji-Cree Crow Incorporated, Ogden now will be sending out promotional packages to schools along with a word list for language teachers to type in their own dialects which will allow his business to custom develop every order.

“This is to ensure 100 per cent language accuracy for all who order,” Ogden said. “It’s a new concept, a way of giving the schools exactly what they want, so I am excited to see how schools respond.”

Ogden often rises at dawn to work freelance jobs such as creating advertisements and brochures.

“I was up at 4:30 this morning and walked to work, and the money I make from here will go towards a promotional package. It’s not always the healthiest thing to do; yet I feel it’s a small sacrifice for a greater good.”

Ogden hopes to one day see all First Nation schools in northwestern Ontario, Manitoba and northern Minnesota using his materials.

Ogden's plans have grown into more than just a business venture. Ogden can be reached by e-mail at

Universities accused of killing African languages

By Stephen Korir, Kenya Times

UNIVERSITIES’ obsession with foreign languages, as well as inadequate reference materials on African mother tongues has undermined the development of African languages.

The investment, use and promotion of international languages in tertiary institutions as well as the universities has been overemphasised at the expense of Africa’s diverse mother tongues.

Schools, middle level training colleges and universities , particularly in East and Central Africa, have also contributed to the dismal performance by students in languages during examinations.

The practice has also limited a large proportion of learners to a few international languages by failing to mount courses in a wider scope of foreign languages.

These sentiments were expressed at a regional conference on language policy and education held recently at a city hotel.

Many publishers are said to shy away from printing mother tongue publications due to perceived limited readership, an issue that is compounded by urban societies averseness to their children speaking their first languages.

Universities and tertiary institutions, it was noted, have failed to pioneer centres for teaching and promotion of the use of Africa’s multiple languages in the international fora. Maseno University which recently launched a faculty

of African language studies was hailed as the only one attempting to inculcate a culture of promoting african languages.

Participants at the Regional conference were consistent in their calls for the need to strengthen teaching of first languages’ long neglected history hence joining the books of the least developed or rather less used in the process rendering them useless for many professionals.

The participants further stressed the need for nurturing more courses on foreign languages such as Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish among other widely spoken languages of the developed countries to enable local people compete with their counterparts at the same level for the various opportunities in this era of globalization.

Mother tongue was seen as the appropriate medium of communication by the children at early stages of development and lower primary classes in particular as it was the only language they may express themselves in freely since thinking as a process is expressed through language and the more the communication skills, the more likely that the child will be empowered to think and express opinions and experiences.

Use of mother tongue not only enables the children to start embracing their culture and values, but also facilitates smooth transition from home to school environment ensuring that child develops a sense of self confidence to participate freely in all activities.

Local languages should also no longer be seen as useless as they are also are also becoming resourceful owing to the outside world’s growing interests in the fields of theology, history, singing and literature of the particular communities as explained by one of the speakers.

Those proficient in spoken and written versions of these languages can land jobs as translators, writers and even mass communications industry especially in this advent of vernacular stations.

The increasing rural to urban migration too provides another opportunity for those who have mastered first or mother tongue languages to utilise them for gain by way of tuition to the children whose parents feel they risk losing touch with their communities a programme pioneered by some parents in the city.

According to Education PS Prof. Karega Mutahi, the government is focused more on development of these languages through the production of quality learning materials. According to the PS all mother tongues are recognised as unique and with roles to play in the development and the adult life of the children.

He regretted that teachers handling mother tongue classes (1-3) did not benefit from any formal training in the teaching of such languages during their training adding that the situation was compounded the poor reading culture amongst pupils in upper primary classes, secondary and even teachers apathy to literature in mother tongue.

As a way forward, the conference resolved that publishing of reference materials on all the languages be encouraged and self study reading culture be promoted amongst all learners was further felt that there is need for a regional language policy on Kiswahili as one of the widely spoken languages in East and Central Africa.

Kenya’s language policy on education stipulates that the particular catchment language be used as the medium of instruction at the Early Childhood Development Centre and the lower primary level . It is also recommended that English be taught during a pupil’s formative stages so as to lay a sound foundation for pursuing future prospects in various spheres of life.

Workshop Seeks Ways to Safeguard Endangered Nigerian Languages

In a bid to preserve endangered Nigerian languages and other intangible oral cultural heritages from extinction, the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) in collaboration with UNESCO, recently held a workshop on best practices to safeguard minority languages.

With over 300 different ethnic groups and languages, Nigeria is one of the richest countries in the world as far as culture is concerned. Each ethnic group is blessed with a unique language and cultural paraphernalia that can withstand the test of time.

But recent studies have shown that many of these languages in the country are either at the brink of extinction or already disappeared.

While the mystery surrounding the disappearances of some of these minor languages continue to remain elusive, NCAC in collaboration with UNESCO, organised a one-day workshop in Enugu to kick-start the move to preserve the languages.

Declaring the workshop open, the chief host, Governor Chimaroke Nnamani condemned what he called the institutional attack on the cultures and traditions of the venerable people of Africa.

The governor who spoke through his Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Arch. Paul Nze blamed colonialism and other western induced developmental programmes such as globalization and African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) as partly responsible for the destruction of African values.

His words; "the institutionalisation of English as a means of communication by the colonial masters and its adoption as instructive tool has continued to decimate the indigenous languages of our people." Addressing the participants, the Chief Executive of the NCAC, Mr M. Maidugu said Nigeria is confronted by the ugly effect of alien cultures to the extent that some Nigerians could not speak their languages.

He said: "Worse still, Nigerian authors in indigenous languages are daily abandoning such crafts and calling to embrace the highly patronised English language texts."

In his goodwill message, the Country Representative of UNESCO/ECOWAS, Mr Hubert Charles said the theme of cultural preservation has been in the front burner of his agency which he said has led to the identifications of two World Heritage sites in the Nigeria.

Participants in the workshop were of the view that unless there is a combine efforts to address the phenomenon, more languages are on the brink of extinction.

Four papers were presented by the resource parsons. In one of the papers, the presenter, Dr Andrew Haruna of the University of Maiduguri revealed that about 15 languages have so far disappeared from the Trans-Saharan region of the North while 30 are on the brink of extinction with very handful good speakers left in existence, mostly old people.

The workshop resolved that in order to reverse the ugly trend, oral and intangible cultural heritage must be promoted and safeguarded by relevant government and non-governmental agencies.

It called for the establishment of publishing houses that cater for the minority languages as the long term benefits are unqualifiedly while the existing publishing houses should be encouraged to publish text books in one or two minor languages.

Participants agreed that language specialists and the local communities should cooperate in language preservation especially in the face of electronic age challenges and the threat of globalisation. Also, that universities should be challenged to take practical steps to encourage students of languages and linguistics to work on their indigenous languages.

A reward system aimed at encouraging the continuous use and development of endangered languages should be instituted at community and state levels.

Policy makers should put into action the National Policy on Education that a child be taught in his or her mother tongue while the wider lingua franca should be taught at the kindergarten and primary schools as languages courses.