Kara Briggs: Native languages slowly disappearing
"In Sapulpa, Okla., teachers spend mornings studying with the remaining speakers of the Yuchi language. In the afternoon, they teach 35 Yuchi preschool students what the elders have just – breath-to-breath – taught them.

“Our youngest speaker is 80 years old,” said Richard Grounds, director of the Yuchi Language Program. “We don’t expect them to come in and wrestle down these wonderful, little two years olds.”

On the Wind River Reservation, language classes in local public schools were canceled so Northern Arapaho resources, financial and human, could be focused at the Hinono’ Eitiino’ Oowu’, an immersion school, where 22 children have the chance to become fluent speakers.

These are desperate measures undertaken in desperate times for Native languages. The Indigenous Language Institute in Santa Fe, N.M., has documented the loss of more than 20 Native languages since 1997, and tracked the aging of fluent language speakers. In 1997, most languages were spoken by people middle-aged and older. Now more than half of Native language speakers are older than 70. Only 20 languages are now routinely spoken to children.

Ryan Wilson, a National Indian Education Association board member, has said we are in the 59th minute of the hour for Native languages in the United States."

Get the Story:
Kara Briggs: Desperate times for Native languages (Indian Country Today 4/16)

Related Stories:
Kara Briggs: Spring break and climate change (4/3)
Kara Briggs: Tribes wait to rebury ancestors (3/18)
Kara Briggs: Losing ground in climate change battle (2/26)
Kara Briggs: Social work and the Indian world view (2/12)
Kara Briggs: We can do better for inauguration (1/28)
Kara Briggs: Answering Obama's call to hope (1/15)
Kara Briggs: Bolivia's president reaches America (12/4)
Kara Briggs: Apologies to indigenous peoples (11/24)
Kara Briggs: Storytellers for Thanksgiving (11/21)