you want the language to survive, it has to be everywhere that English
is. It has to infiltrate every medium--music, books, television,
even the street signs on the reservation. Every time they turn around,
the kids should bump into the language.
Dr. Stephen Greymorning, Professor
University of Montana, Missoula, Montana
Native American Languages Act, passed in 1990 (Public Law 101-477)
and amended in 1992 (Public Law 102-524), makes it the policy of
the United States "to preserve, protect, and promote the rights
and freedom of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop Native
American languages. "One of the ten national goals for American
Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), which resemble the national
goals established in 1989 by the Bush administration, is to maintain
Native languages and cultures. Goal 2 states:
the year 2000 all schools will offer Native students the opportunity
to maintain and develop their tribal languages and will create
a multicultural environment that enhances the many cultures represented
in the school.1
goal appears to have the most urgency for Native people, because
language is a core component of culture and because so many Native
languages are declining in use. According to Congressional testimony
in 1992, several hundred indigenous languages were spoken on this
continent at one time, but only about 155 still remain. Of these,
it is estimated that:
are spoken by people of all ages, including children;
30 are spoken by adults of all ages;
60 are spoken by middle-aged adults; and
45 are spoken by only the most elderly.2
a third of these languages are used to varying degrees in the region
served by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL).
This region comprises Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma,
and Texas. This source book focuses on the languages used in this
Look at the Native Languages in SEDL's Region
vitality of a language depends on at least two important factors:
the number of speakers and the extent to which adults are teaching
the language to children. "Only in the Southwest are many Native
American languages relatively viable and vital," states Dr.Michael
Krauss, Professor of Linguistics and Director of the Alaska Native
Language Center at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.3
Of the 50 indigenous languages used or once used in SEDL's region,
evidence suggests that 14 (28 percent) are vigorous, 18 (36 percent)
are in moderate use, and the remaining 18 (also 36 percent) are
extinct or nearly extinct.4 The number of people speaking
an American Indian language in each of the five states in SEDL's
region is reported in Table 1.
1: Number and Percent of People Speaking American Indian Languages
where American Indians number only 12,773,5 had no federally
recognized tribes until 1994 and no recognition system at the state
level. One can only surmise which languages are spoken by American
Indians in the state. Caddo is a language that once extended into
southwestern Arkansas and northeastern Texas but is now associated
with the Caddo Tribe in Oklahoma. Cherokee is likely to be one of
the languages in Arkansas, especially in the western part of the
state, near the Oklahoma border. In 1994, after the figures below
were tabulated, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians relocated
from Oklahoma to Waldron, Arkansas, suggesting that the state may
have gained Native language speakers.
language use is vigorous among members of the Coushatta Tribe of
Louisiana.8 Adults speak the language to their children
before they enter school, and employees of the tribe speak the language
every day around the office.9 The Coushatta of Louisiana,
like many tribes in the U.S., have established bilingual education
programs for the children who enter school with limited proficiency
in English to help them make the transition from speaking their
Native language at home to speaking English at school.
the Coushatta Tribe, Louisiana has three other federally recognized
tribes: the Chitimacha Tribe, the Tunica-Biloxi Indian Tribe, and
the Jena Band of Choctaw Indians, which has been federally recognized
only since 1995. Several more tribes are recognized by the state
of Louisiana--the only state in SEDL's region to have a state recognition
system. The languages of the Chitimacha Tribe and the Tunica-Biloxi
Indian Tribe are now extinct. Fortunately for the Chitimacha Tribe,
however, the Smithsonian Institution has recordings of its language
that were made decades ago when native speakers were still alive.
The tribe is working to preserve these recordings and make them
accessible for posterity. The Jena Band of Choctaw Indians still
has speakers among its 188 members, although all of them are middle-aged
New Mexico, where eight Native languages are spoken, Jemez, Keresan,
and Zuni are the pueblo languages that are still spoken by children.
The Mescalero Apache also have child speakers.10 The
Diné Nation (formerly the Navajo Nation), which extends into
New Mexico, has a sizable population of speakers, especially in
certain locations, and Navajo is, by policy, the language of instruction
in Navajo Head Start programs. Moreover, a full line of Navajo language
courses for Native and non-Native people is available through the
Diné College system. Two organizations based in New Mexico
that are profiled in this source book are the Linguistic Institute
for Native Americans, which has focused primarily on the Native
languages in New Mexico, and the Lannan Foundation's Indigenous
Communities Program, which has funded Native language efforts in
both New Mexico and Oklahoma.
has 25 Native languages--more than any other state in the nation.
The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma has been a forerunner in language
development, and Cherokee language instruction is available at schools,
colleges and universities, and community settings. In 1990, the
Oklahoma Legislature passed H.B. 1017, allowing a Native language
to fulfill the state's language requirement for high school graduation.
Many tribes launched language initiatives, and the state department
of education sponsored seminars on Native language curriculum development.
The Seminole Nation's K-3 language awareness curriculum was the
first to be approved by the state, which used it as a model for
other tribes. The Comanche Nation obtained grants to try out both
a preschool immersion program, and, more recently, a master-apprentice
the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians uses its language in every
day communication and newspapers, only about 5 percent of the Choctaw
children in Oklahoma speak Choctaw when they enter school.11
Students can learn Choctaw, however, at a public school in Oklahoma
featured in this source book, and the Choctaw Nation piloted a language
program at another elementary school that now maintains the program
on its own. Community classes for students 13 years and older are
taught in several cities and counties. Instructors speak, read,
and write Choctaw, and the Choctaw Nation structures curriculum
workshops around four levels of language instruction.
Intertribal Wordpath Society and the Oklahoma Native Language Association,
both established in 1997, help tribes work together on their language
initiatives and encourage Native-language speakers to use their
languages more. The Oklahoma Native Language Association conducts
a conference every year in October on the teaching and learning
of Native languages. The Intertribal Wordpath Society promotes awareness
and teaching of Oklahoma Native languages through publications,
public educational programs, a quarterly newsletter (Pathways),
and a cable television program (Wordpath).
the border between south Texas and Mexico, the children of the Kickapoo
Traditional Tribe of Texas learn their indigenous language before
they enter school.12 Some members of the tribe are not
only bilingual but tri-lingual, learning to speak the indigenous
language first and later English and Spanish. The tribe offers tutoring
and other services to help the children who enter school with limited
proficiency in English. The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas maintains
some use of its language, especially among older adults, but emphasizes
the importance of mastering English. English is the language of
instruction in the tribe's Head Start program.13 The
situation is similar for the Tiguas, who reside in far west Texas
near El Paso but have roots with the Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico.
end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century constitute
a window of opportunity to support the efforts of indigenous people
in SEDL's region to teach their languages in pursuit of a goal they
have set for themselves and in accord with the Native American Languages
the Idea for a Source Book Developed
its work on a monograph titled Promising Programs in Native Education,
SEDL staff became aware of Native language education programs. In
particular, staff learned about several different approaches to
teaching Native languages, including:
of a Native language in a preschool where a certain tribe is predominant;
of a Native language in a public school by a teacher or teacher
master-apprentice programs that pair an elder with a younger individual
who wants to learn the elder's Native language;
development of computer software that preserves a Native language
in spoken form, using the computer's audio features to
record elders speaking; and
distance learning programs of Native language instruction.
May 1994, SEDL participated in what was thought to be the first
Native Literacy and Language Roundtable. This roundtable
was attended by several Native language speakers, and the proceedings
included recommendations for action regarding the teaching, preservation,
and revival of Native languages and culture. Three of these
recommendations are cited below:
information and support efforts that promote community Native
language use and learning;
assist in providing policy makers with information to foster recognition
about the need for certified experts in native language/literacy;
document successes of culturally appropriate language programs.
recommendations led to the idea of a source book on programs that
involved the teaching and learning of Native languages. Besides
documenting these programs, such a source book could facilitate
the sharing of information with Native language educators, agencies,
higher education institutions, policy makers, and other groups.
guide the development of the source book, SEDL established a regional
task force of nine Native educators and language activists from
throughout its region. Members of the task force assisted in developing
this source book by reviewing and commenting on the questionnaire
used to gather information and on an early outline for the source
SEDL Identified Programs and Collected Information
identified Native language programs and efforts through numerous
avenues. According to the regional task force, staff could not rely
on tribal governments for information on the initiatives concerning
their languages. Based on this advice, staff consulted not only
the regional task force but also state departments of education,
state bilingual education associations, and federal government agencies
for leads and for information on programs funded under the Native
American Languages Act or Title VII (Bilingual Education Act). Staff
disseminated a request for information via e-mail through two electronic
mailing lists (NativeNet's NAT-LANG and the "langpres"
listserv of the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education),
and followed up on the responses. Staff subscribed to a few
other listservs as well and kept a look out for messages about indigenous
languages in use in SEDL's region. Names were obtained at conferences
or pulled from the proceedings of conferences, including the 1996
annual conference of the International Native Languages Institute
(INLI) and the first and second "Stabilizing Indigenous Languages"
symposia sponsored by Northern Arizona University and other organizations.
Names were also gleaned from the membership lists of such relevant
organizations as the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages
pursuing these identification strategies, SEDL staff drafted a questionnaire,
reviewed it with members of the regional task force, and revised
it to incorporate their suggestions. One of the suggestions from
the task force, for example, was to add an item that solicited additional
were mailed over an extended period of time as Native language education
programs were identified. The original requests for information
that went unheeded were sent reminder letters. Altogether, SEDL
mailed out 63 questionnaires and received 29 responses between November
1996 and June 1998. Of these, 24 provided information on Native
language education programs, while five indicated that they did
not currently have a Native language program. The 24 programs profiled
here are by no means the only Native language education programs
in SEDL's region. Others are missing from this source book either
because SEDL did not learn about them during the identification
process or because SEDL learned about them but they did not respond
to requests for information.
source book contains a profile for each of the 24 programs. SEDL
staff developed a common format for describing the programs and
used the questionnaire from each program to draft a program profile
that followed the format. SEDL staff then mailed a request to each
program to review its profile and revise it if need be. In this
verification process, SEDL made it clear whether or not it would
include the program in the source book if the program did not respond
to its request.
the Program Profiles are Organized
program profiles are arranged alphabetically by language and then
program name. Each profile begins with the language(s) with which
the program is concerned, indicates where the program is based,
lists the program's goals, and describes the program briefly. After
the description, information is provided on the teaching materials
or other items used in the program and on the funds or other resources
that support the program. Every profile contains a name, address,
and other contact information for obtaining further information.
Since some programs deal with more than one language, the programs
page is important for locating the languages taught only in
conjunction with other languages. In addition, a summary
of all 24 programs appears in a table at the end of this document,
following the last profile.
open-ended item on the questionnaire solicited advice about starting
a Native language education program, whereas another asked more
generally for advice or further comments. The intent of these items
was to give the programs an opportunity to share any wisdom they
had gained from experience. Their responses, which appear in Appendix
A, are quoted almost verbatim, although minor revisions were
made for the sake of conciseness or clarity. Appendix
B is a list of recommending reading. The Native American Languages
Act appears in Appendix C, and the
Navajo Nation's long-range Navajo-language goals appear in Appendix
D. This comprehensive set of goals may be useful as a model
to any tribe in the process of developing its own language goals.
Appendix E is a list of web sites
and electronic mailing lists, while Appendix
F provides information for contacting several relevant organizations
within and outside of the five-state region.
hope that Native language educators find this source book to be
a useful source of information that facilitates networking. Perhaps
with this source book, they can more easily draw on each other's
knowledge and experience to start new Native language education
programs or to enhance the success of the ones they already have
Goal 7 of the more recently developed Goals 2000 for Indian America
simply states "By the year 2000, American Indian and Alaska
Native students will be provided the opportunity to maintain and
enrich their tribal language and culture."
Ramirez-Shkwegnaabi, B. (1996). Proceedings of the 15th International
Native American Language Institute. St. Cloud, MN: St. Cloud State
University American Indian Center.
Krauss, M. (1996). Status of Native American language endangerment.
Stabilizing indigenous languages. Flagstaff, AZ: Center for Excellence
in Education, Northern Arizona University, p. 18.
The primary reference for this summary information on Native languages
in SEDL's region was the 1992 Ethnologue, compiled by the International
Center of Linguistics (commonly known as the Summer Institute of
Linguistics) in Dallas, Texas. Web site: http://www.sil.org/
1990 U.S. Census.
Gale Research, Inc. (1995). Statistical Record of Native North Americans,
2nd edition. Original source: U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1990 Census
of Population and Housing, Characteristics of American Indians by
Tribe and Language, pp. 874-875.
1990 U.S. Census
Skinner, L. (1990). Teaching through traditions: Incorporating Native
languages and cultures into curricula. Indian Nations at Risk Task
Force, Commissioned Paper Number 10. Summarized in Cahape, P. and
Howley, C. B. (Eds.) (1992). Indian Nations at Risk: Listening to
the People. Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education
and Small Schools.
Shirley Doucet, member of SEDL's regional task force and Director
of Education for the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, personal communication,
October 12, 1996.
Krauss, M. (1996). Status of Native American language endangerment.
Stabilizing indigenous languages. Flagstaff, AZ: Center for Excellence
in Education, Northern Arizona University.
Kwachka, P. Native literacy. Panel presentation at the Native Literacy
and Language Roundtable in Denver, Colorado, May 5-7, 1994.
Juan Gonzalez, member of SEDL's regional task force and a tutor
for the Social Services Department of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe
of Texas, personal communication, July30, 1996.
Clem F. Sylesteine, then Second Chief and Tribal Councilman of the
Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, personal communication, December