Archive for the ‘native languages’ Category

Talking dictionaries aim to document, preserve endangered languages

Tito Perez, a shaman from the Chamacoco community in Puerto Diana, Paraguay, is shown. Words and sentences from the Chamacoco language can be heard in a new talking dictionary. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, National Geographic, Chris Rainier)

Using ancient languages in danger of being lost, National Geographic has created eight new talking dictionaries, according to the Canadian Press.

    The dictionaries contain more than 32,000 word entries in eight endangered languages. They comprise more than 24,000 audio recordings of native speakers pronouncing words and sentences, along with photos of cultural objects.

    Among the participants on a panel about the use of digital tools at the AAAS meeting was Alfred (Bud) Lane, among the last known fluent speakers of Siletz Dee-ni, a Native American language spoken in Oregon. Lane has written that the talking dictionary is — and will be — one of the best resources in the struggle to keep his language alive.

The languages have been recorded and written, but part of the project also involves taking photographs of native speakers.

Native student responds to a Times article about his home
Did you read the Feb. 3 New York Time’s article on the Wind River Reservation?

A lot of students from Wind River did, and they responded in a variety of ways about their feelings of how the story depicted their home.

    Students on the Wind River reservation read and discussed the piece in classes at Fort Washakie Charter High School, and, according to Michael L. Read, an English teacher there, felt that “the article seemed to reinforce the stereotypes that they get labeled with frequently.” In an e-mail, he wrote, “These students know that there are problems in their community, but they also love it and are fully committed to honoring their ancestors and the future.”

One student, Willow Pingree, responded through a comment online. It’s worth reading and reflecting on. (Pingree’s entire letter is printed online on a Times learning blog.)

Montana to allow hunters to shoot wandering Yellowstone bison
There’s no bison management agreement yet when it comes to how tribes and government agencies will manage bison in Montana, but on Thursday the state announced it would allow hunters to shoot the animals if they wander outside Yellowstone National Park.

Associated Press reporter Matt Volz has the story.

    Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials say that allowing hunters to enforce those tolerance areas is an adjustment to an Interagency Bison Management Plan change that expands the boundaries where bison can wander. It would allow hunters to shoot bison that stray beyond designated areas during or outside of the bison hunting season.

    . . .

    The plan was approved in a 4-1 vote. Commissioner A.T. “Rusty” Stafne, a former Fort Peck tribal chairman, voted against the measure, saying the agreements with the tribes should be in place first.

    Neighboring farmers and ranchers fear the bison will spread disease and destroy their property.

    Two lawsuits are pending over allowing bison to leave Yellowstone in search of food at lower elevations in the winter. A third lawsuit aims to block the relocation of the 68 bison to Fort Peck and Fort Belknap.

Jenna Cederberg

Courtesy of

An independent filmmaker hoping to finish a documentary about the fight to save endangered Native languages is on a seemingly impossible mission to raise more than $9,000 in six days he needs to finish the film.

Brian McDermott describes his “Lost Words” documentary as “the story of American Indians who must overcome the traumas inflicted by U.S. policies as they fight to save their endangered languages.”

McDermott is looking to the Internet as an alternative avenue for funding and has started a account to help raise money for the film.

If he can raise $10,000 by Aug. 10, then Kickstarter may kick in more money to complete the film. The site shows he has $285 raised so far.

Read the rest of this entry »

Monday is International Mother Language Day. Did you know the world shares 7,000 languages? Did you know more than half are endangered?

Linguist and leading specialist in the study of endangered languages K. David Harrison discusses these numbers and what it means for the health of the world’s intellectual history in a column for Huffington Post.

Harrison’s “Emerging Languages, Emergent Knowledge” column notes this: . . . we are now at risk of entering an informational and evolutionary bottleneck, heading for a global memory wipe as languages vanish.

What does this mean for ingenious peoples throughout the world?

    While the top of the economic pyramid may be dominated by a few players, the knowledge pyramid is inversely skewed, with just 0.2 percent of the world’s population possessing a full 80 percent of our languages, and the vast knowledge they encode.

    Humans spent millennia functioning in oral societies. Longevity of information was ensured by distributing it across multiple brains, and evolving complex social structures to ensure inter-generational transmission. In our knowledge-based economy, we now outsource most memory tasks to digital media, no longer memorizing stories, poems, or even phone numbers. But a hard drive is less durable than each successive medium that came before it: paper, papyrus, clay, stone, and human memory.

Just so you know: Feb. 21 is International Mother Language Day, established by UNESCO in 1999, “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world.”

Jenna Cederberg

Nkwusm school director Rosie Matt pages through the second edition of the Salish Language Translation Dictionary in the language school’s storage room, a former bowling alley. Some 4,000 copies of the dictionary were printed in August. (Photo by Linda Thompson/Missoulian)

Nkwusm school director Rosie Matt pages through the second edition of the Salish Language Translation Dictionary in the language school’s storage room, a former bowling alley. Some 4,000 copies of the dictionary were printed in August. (Photo by Linda Thompson/Missoulian)

of the Missoulian

Four thousand new doses of medicine for the Salish language arrived at the Nkwusm language immersion school in Arlee this summer.

The second edition of Nkwusm executive director Tachini Pete’s Salish language translation dictionary was printed in hardback form in August and copies are now being housed in the school where students learn the Native language each day.

The book, “Selis nyo?nuntn: Medicine for the Salish Language” includes English to Salish translations in the updated, streamlined form.

A scholar of the language for 16 years, Pete knows elders are elders and won’t be around forever. Around 50 fluent Salish speakers remain today, and few are under the age of 75.

“That’s always been my motivation, that other people could learn, not just me. I just want to provide the best tool they can have,” Pete said.

It’s the first time the language has been presented in this form so completely. Pete’s first edition was 186 pages long. The latest edition boasts 816 pages. It’s not only filled in with a treasure trove of new words and information, but it’s in a more useable form, Pete said.

Read the rest of this entry »

Cherokee, Apple partner to put language on iPhones
iPhones that help keep Native languages alive? If the new app created by a Apple/Cherokee Nation collaboration catches on, it’s not such an outrageous statement.
As Indian Country Today reports, the app that was introduced late in 2010 is geared toward “tech-savvy” youth who are using the iPods, iPads and iPhones en masse.

    Tribal officials first contacted Apple about getting Cherokee on the iPhone three years ago. It seemed like a long shot, as the devices support only 50 of the thousands of languages worldwide, and none were American Indian tongues. But Apple’s reputation for innovation gave the tribe hope.

    After many discussions and a visit from Smith, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company surprised the tribe by coming through this fall.

Brian Smith, a member of the Glooscap First Nation and operations director of the Centre for First Nations Governance poses for photos in Kentville, Nova Scotia on Wednesday, December 15, 2010.  (Sándor Fizli, For Postmedia News)

Brian Smith, a member of the Glooscap First Nation and operations director of the Centre for First Nations Governance poses for photos in Kentville, Nova Scotia on Wednesday, December 15, 2010. (Sándor Fizli, For Postmedia News)

Native communities struggle with governance, accountability
As the headline suggests, this strong piece from Post Media News’ Richard Foot details how First Nations in Canada often fight for sovereignty amidst headlines of scandals within already established tribal governments.

The article details the how Brian Smith, of the Mi’kmaq reserve in Nova Scotia, fought against the outrageous news that leaders of the 87 person reserve were earning nearly $200,000 salaries.

You’ll get a sense of the frustration from people like Smith as the article goes through arguments about two main points:

    First, ordinary aboriginal people care deeply about the chronic lack of good government on Canada’s First Nations — a shortcoming illustrated this fall not just by the salaries at Glooscap, but at dozens of First Nations across the country.

    Second, the messages showed that many aboriginals don’t want the federal government to step in to fix such problems, whatever the outcry for intervention from non-native taxpayers. And they aren’t eager for passage of a Conservative private members’ bill, now before Parliament, that would require First Nation politicians to publicly disclose their salaries on a government website.

FSU’s Seminole imagery still frustrates Russell Means

    “It would be in the best interest of Florida State to become human. We’re not asking them to become politically correct. Keep the Seminole nickname, but get rid of the savagery.”
    Russell Means

Although the Chik-Fil-A bowl has come and gone, the match up was preempted by The State columnist Ron Morris’ piece after his interview with Russel Means, former American Indian Movement leader who now teaches language on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Morris makes a strong argument leading up to his final paragraphs:

    Yet in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr. and Andrew Young fought for civil rights in the 1960s, there will be Florida State fans with painted faces doing the “Tomahawk Chop” and singing “war chants” hours before the calendar flips to 2011.

    There exists some irony in that. It is disgusting enough to make Russell Means turn off his television set in South Dakota.

See if you agree.

Jenna Cederberg

Photo by Vincent Schilling

Photo by Vincent Schilling

It was a week full of language immersion for the Buffalo Post. (My story on the new Salish language dictionary comes out Monday on This quote from Carole Ross, Mohawk language instructor at the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation caught my eye. Really wise words: “Our language is a gift from our Creator, if we don’t learn it. We cannot hear the voices of our ancestors.”
Read the full story about embracing technology to teach Native languages at Indian Country Today.

Whichever holidays you celebrate throughout the year, here are a few gift ideas Buffalo Post stumbled upon in the past month that keep the Native flavor in focus. More ideas? Let Buffalo Post know by posting items in the comments section. Enjoy:

Rosetta Stones Endangered Language Program, which works with native groups to customize Rosetta Stone software for exclusive use in language revitalization. There are a number of options. has the kits. Take an interactive tour of Rosetta Stone Navajo, released in 2010.

In Montana? The Native America Made in Montana seal will let you know which items are legitimate. Eligibility requires an individual to be enrolled (including Little Shell) and to produce a finished product or serve that is created, made and produced in Montana, resulting an added value of 50 percent or more, the Char-Koosta newspaper reported.

For some stocking stuffers, pick up Tanka Bites. This American Indian natural food producer was listed in the AP’s gift guide.

    Make a hiker, camper or climber happy with Tanka Bites, a preservative-free trail snack inspired by the Lakota Indians. The spicy blend is made of pounded dried buffalo meat, dried cranberries and peppers, including habanero. The editors of Backpacker magazine recommend them…, the AP said.

killing of crazy horse
“The Killing of Crazy Horse” by Thomas Powers, is getting rave reviews. See for yourself – does it cover the real Crazy Horse? One reviewer said:

    “The Killing of Crazy Horse” takes on the mythology and the history of the man and his age. Thomas Powers — whose work as a journalist peering into the shadows of the intelligence world has served as surprisingly apt preparation — nimbly traces the mixture of legend, tacit knowledge, and hearsay that represents the canon of Crazy Horse studies. The Sioux Wars of the 1860s and ’70s comprised a world with a social structure all its own.

Last but not least, a full-blown Santa Christmas wish list. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, it’s going to be a long holiday season. Thanks to A New Way blog for the suggestions.

Jenna Cederberg

Above: Alfred Metallic, centre, defending his dissertation (Courtesy of YFile)

Above: Alfred Metallic, centre, defending his dissertation (Courtesy of YFile)

From Sandra McLean, YFile writer (York University, Canada):

While researching the historical rights of his First Nation’s community of Listuguj in the Gespe’gewa’gig district of the Mi’gmaw on the southwest shore of the Gaspé peninsula for his doctoral thesis, York PhD candidate Alfred Metallic came to believe there was something missing in what he was doing – an integral piece of a larger picture.

Not much had been written about that part of the Gaspé Peninsula and northern New Brunswick, the seventh district of the Mi’gmaw Grand Council, until Metallic turned his eye to it, but that didn’t explain the feeling he had.

It wasn’t until after he had written his comprehensive exams and was back in his community that he realized what was missing was the Mi’gmaw language – its connection to the spirit of the people, their ways of life and the land – and the way stories are presented back to the people, his people. Metallic’s dissertation was his story, and he needed to tell it using the oral traditions of his people in the Mi’gmaw language of his community and district, to share the knowledge and learning he’d accumulated, but also to help preserve his native language, which is at risk of disappearing.

“Our language, it’s how we maintain our relations and how we understand where we come from. It gives you access to your place in the world,” says Metallic. In the Mi’gmaw language, the action comes first, then the person. It’s the opposite with the English language.

York environmental studies Professor Anders Sandberg, Metallic’s PhD supervisor, helped put the process in place with the support of Professor Barbara Rahder, dean of the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) and FES Professors Robin Cavanagh, Mora Campbell, Stefan Kipfer and Peter Cole, among others. York became the first Canadian postsecondary institution to officially sanction the use of a language other than English or French in graduate work, and Metallic the first PhD candidate at York to defend his thesis in an Aboriginal language – it was written and spoken in the Mi’gmaw language.

Read the rest of this entry »

Awesome news today from the Associated Press:

MASHPEE, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts linguist who spent 17 years trying to revive the language of her Wampanoag Indian community is among 23 recipients of this year’s “genius grants.”

Jessie Little Doe Baird of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe says she nearly fainted when she heard that she is receiving the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s $500,000 grant.

The Chicago-based foundation announced the grant Tuesday. The money, paid quarterly over five years, comes with no strings, allowing winners unfettered freedom to pursue their creativity.

The 46-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate has pushed to revive the Wampanoag language that was last spoken more than 150 years ago.

Her work helped restore to her Native American community a vital sense of its cultural heritage and to the nation a link to its complex past.

Swift Sanchez, a sergeant with the Suquamish Tribal Police, returns to her vehicle while on patrol on the Suquamish Reservation in Washington state. Across the country, police, prosecutors and judges have been wrestling with the vexing question for decades. (AP photo)

Swift Sanchez, a sergeant with the Suquamish Tribal Police, returns to her vehicle while on patrol on the Suquamish Reservation in Washington state. Across the country, police, prosecutors and judges have been wrestling with the vexing question for decades. (AP photo)

Question of race complicates crime-fighting on Indian reservations
Today, the Associated Press examines what it calls “the complex legal system used to mete out justice on American Indian reservations – a system that relies largely on race to determine jurisdiction, and then charges police and prosecutors with the sometimes delicate task of determining a person’s race.” As BJ Jones, director of the Tribal Judicial Institute at The University of North Dakota law school, tells the AP’s Sudhin Thanawala, “The whole flaw in the system is that it’s premised upon being an Indian defendant or Indian victim, and yet we have no clear-cut definition of who an Indian is.”

Art through American – and Native American – eyes
The title of a show at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, “Engaging With Nature: American and Native American Artists (A.D. 1200-2004),” says it all. The show features works by, among others, Tewa-Hopi artist Dan Namingha and Kay WalkingStick, who is Cherokee-Winnebago and, says the New York Times, suggests “a different set of possibilities” when it comes to looking at the natural world.

Nick Claxton (left) taught a paddle making course at the University of Victoria. (Photo for Indian Country Today by Hans Tammemagi)

Nick Claxton (left) taught a paddle making course at the University of Victoria. (Photo for Indian Country Today by Hans Tammemagi)

Victoria University sees huge growth in indigenous programs
On the good-news front, there’s a story from Indian Country Today on the growth of Native programs, student enrollment and staff at Victoria University. Hans Tammemagi writes that “By about 2000, a critical mass was reached, and that has grown so today there are 17 full-time Native staff and about 30 part-time or sessional staff. The enrollment of Native students is a good measure of the University of Victoria’s success. A decade ago, there were 72 indigenous students. Today, there are approximately 750, of which 100 are in post-graduate programs.” Emblematic of that growth is the First Peoples House, an architecturally stunning replica of a longhouse that is home to many of the programs.

Saving Canada’s indigenous languages should be campaign priority
Andrea Bear Nicholas, who chairs Native Studies at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick, Canada, has a piece published on the CBC website about the importance of saving Native languages, something she considers “essential to our survival as First Nations.” And Bear Nicholas, who is Maliseet, suggests that New Brunswick follow the lead of the Yukon and Northwest territories by passing legislation that protects indigenous languages

Whew! Shiprock Navajo Fair is still on

The Navajo Times brings the news that despite controversy over a lack of transparency concerning financial data, the Shiprock Navajo Fair will go on as planned the first weekend of October. The fair draws as many as 120,000 people. “Nobody can stop it,” fair board vice president Charley P. Joe tells the Times’ Erny Zah.

Gwen Florio