Guest column: Native language preservation begins at home

Continuing indigenous Native language loss is well documented not only globally but within our very own backyard, the United States.

In academe, within the past four decades, we see an unprecedented proliferation of scholarly literature on the continuing Native language loss. While documentation on a most profound humanitarian public health issue is immensely invaluable, what appears to be particularly striking is that there seems to be an inverse relationship between the increasing scholarly publications on Native American language loss, revitalization and actual continuing Native language loss among Native peoples.

That is, while there is a consistent upward slope over the years on publications on Native peoples’ language loss and revitalization, along with conferences, we see the continuing downward slope on actual Native peoples’ language use. Pointedly, while academic publications and dialogue abound on Native language preservation, we witness in the fields profound cultural disintegration as evidenced by Native heritage language loss.

The cogent glial cells that glue our Native homes and families together have become brittle and are crumbling. This upward trend in scholarly publications on Native language loss and preservation, along with the proliferation of Indian education conferences, and the alarming downward trend in percentage of Native peoples speaking their heritage language is frightening to say the least. Such statistics are not only alarming but most telling as to our practices in getting a better handle on Native language loss. We have a compelling reason to do some soul searching as to the path we are on regarding continuing loss of Native languages.

If we keep going in this trajectory unabated, we can be assured of complete Native language loss in a very short time. We, as Native peoples, will have accomplished quite successfully what U.S. policy and practice has been unable to accomplish since the 1600’s regarding our Native heritage language and identity.

Any language teaching and reinforcement begins and ends in the home, within a family. The educational entity can only play a partial role to supplement and not supplant the profound importance of the home and family dinner table conversation and values. Who among us is willing to take pride in the destruction of humanity? One can only hope that with convocations such as our annual Cultural Symposium, we can begin the dialogue on how indigenous language loss equates to cultural disintegration, a critical global humanitarian public policy crises and practice that cuts deep into the heart of Native indigenous communities.

Shouldn’t we work to change the course of human development toward teaching and learning from cultural diversity, to harness the exponential powers and value of multiple perspectives? When do we begin to view cultural diversity as a source and strength of the human mind and not a weakness of the human mind?

Dr. Harold Begay, District Superintendent, Tuba City Unified School District

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