LSA thanks President Obama for remarks on importance of Native American languages
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 - 10:44am
When asked about the importance of revitalizing the language and culture of American Indians, President Obama not only spoke about the importance of preserving a diversity of cultures in the United States, but discussed ongoing plans with the Secretaries of Education and the Interior to incorporate these cultures and languages more fully into school curricula:
Look, it’s a great question. As you may be aware, I was at an Indian reservation in South Dakota recently. And I met with a group of young people -- this is young men and women -- wonderful young men and women. Just extraordinary. And I won’t share with you exactly what they told me about their lives because it was private and they really opened up. But I can tell you that it was heartbreaking to hear some of the stories, in part because you got a sense of what the history of the interaction between the United States government and Native American peoples had done to the culture.
The Bible says without vision a people will perish. And what happens when you start losing your language and you start losing your culture and you don’t have a sense of connections to ancestors and those memories that date back generations is you start feeling adrift. And if you’re living in a society that devalues that, then you start maybe devaluing yourself and internalizing some of those doubts.
Now, the good news is what we started seeing -- for example, at the pow-wow that existed at the reservation, there was a Lakota language school for little kids, starting very early. They were learning math and science and all the subjects, but they were also in an immersion school, essentially, in their own language to empower them.
And part of what I’ve been talking to Secretary Duncan about and Sally Jewell, who is the head of the Department of Interior, about is how do we incorporate more effectively into the school curriculums, into social programs, et cetera, a recognition of the distinct cultures of these native peoples. Because if young people come up proud of their past, then they’ll have a more powerful sense of direction going forward.
So I think this is something that we have to spend some time thinking about -- making sure that we understand there’s a way of knowing your history, knowing your culture, being proud of it, using it as a strength, but not thinking that there’s just one way of you then having to act. I think that’s very important.
The Linguistic Society of America and its Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation wish to thank President Obama for his remarks supporting the revitalization of Native American languages and cultures, and have sent a letter to the White House expressing our regards:
The LSA continues to make its members aware of two Congressional bills which would support the revitalization of Native American languages, and encourages its members to write to their Congressional representatives to share their thoughts on the issue.