Native Village 

Youth and Education News

April 1, 2006 Issue 166  Volume 2

"Within our culture, our new buffalo is education."  Keith Moore

Linguists Work to Rebuild Pequot Language
Connecticut:  In 1638, The Treaty of Hartford made speaking the Pequot language illegal. Those who broke the law were punished by beatings, being sold into slavery or death. Now, 368 years later, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe is promoting its language and hopes its younger members can use it to pass on their culture. "It's vitally important.  Through our children, our language will live," said Charlene Jones, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council secretary. Tribal members began working the the language project 11 years ago. They knew only a few words, and there were no native speakers of the language. Today, more than 1,000 words have been reclaimed through research and help from linguists.  "People didn't know we could do it," Jones said.  "They thought it was virtually impossible." A language needs 50,000 words in order to be considered established.

History, in a word
North Dakota:  Teams from Sioux reservation schools in the US and Canada competed in a Dakota language scrabble tournament at the Dakota Magic Casino pavilion.  Tribal elders fluent in the Dakota language created the game to help revitalize the Dakota language, now spoken fluently by a dwindling number of elders.  One survey predicted the last fluent Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota speaker would die in 2025.  Tammy DeCoteau is the driving force behind the tribes' language preservation efforts.  Her goal to is make it appealing to children and adolescents.    "We pondered over the different games we could play and came up with Scrabble." Earlier efforts included translating nursery rhymes and recording a Dakota rap album.  Decades ago, American Indian children in boarding schools were forbidden to speak their native languages.  One of them was Catherine Howard, a Dakota language teacher from the Spirit Lake Reservation.  She brought two students to the Scrabble tournament.  "It's a real good, challenging game," she said, adding that scrabble teaches students to spell and pronounce words, and to string those words into sentences.  The Dakota Scrabble initiative was authorized by Hasbro, the maker of Scrabble, and paid for by the company's chairman, Alan Hassenfeld.  There are 30 educational versions of the game, and each set was hand crafted by tribal members.  The tiles are made of stone mined from a South Dakota quarry, and the game boxes are made of parfleche (hard leather).  Unable to find a maker of a leather board, the creators settled on a vinyl version.  Otherwise, all materials are natural and native to the area. Jack Trope of the Association of American Indian Affairs, was on hand for the event.  "It's been a huge amount of effort that's been put into [the Scrabble Game and Tournament]," Trope said.  "This is hopefully the first of many tournaments like it."
Scrabble artwork: Dragonpress

The Race to Preserve a Dying Language
Ontario:  Fewer than 1,000 speakers in the world speak Michif. Many are dying faster than their words can be recorded.  Métis people have struggled for years to protect their language. Now the pressure is on:  Canada's multi-million dollar Aboriginal Languages Initiative, which provide funds to save Canada's dying languages, may end.  “We all expected (the program) to continue, and now it’s uncertain,” said Bruce Dumont, the Métis Nation minister of culture and heritage.  “We ... are at a crossroads with a new government that is far from clear in their stance (on Aboriginal language preservation).”  Michif is a complicated blend of French and Cree, with many regional dialects that are different from one another.  “Most people speaking it didn’t even realize it was its own language,”  said Michif language coordinator Carey Calder. “They assumed many of the words were very old French, when in fact they were very old Cree.”  Canada is home to many Metis, with a large population around Thunder Bay. The Metis became their own culture as 18th-19th century French fur traders  married local Aboriginal women. Often lumped into the same category as their sister First Nations, the Métis Nation is now stepping up their cultural preservation tactics.  Technology has helped; CD-ROMs and interactive websites teach Michif to youngsters and a 24 hour Web radio station plays Métis music and language all over the world.

Language is on the agenda
Wyoming: On many Indian reservations and other tribal lands, language immersion schools are being modeled after successful language programs by the Maori of New Zealand.  ''Culture and heritage is the backbone of all our communities," said Brian Patterson from New York's Oneida Indian Nation. The OIN made Oneida language revival a priority in 1995,  despite the fact that fluent speakers were rare and many elders who knew the language were not teachers.  Since an immersion school wasn't feasible then, the tribe assembled the laws and data on the Oneida language in one place. Eventually the tribe hired eight Oneida women to teach the language. ''They can embrace our language with the love of a mother's heart,'' Patterson said. The teachers coin words and usages for the present, leading children to think Oneida in the mist of an English-speaking world. ''It's in our Early Learning Center, in the songs, the thought process of Oneida, of being Oneida," Patterson said.  The program is headed in the direction of immersion schooling, he said, though only a step at a time.

Young Inuit request residential school meeting
Inuit youth want a national gathering where they can learn more about the residential schools their parents and grandparents were forced to attend. "Inuit need the base knowledge of our history, of what our people went through," said Jason Tolognak,  National Inuit Youth Council president. "There's little knowledge among youth about residential schools. Sometimes we see things on TV or on the Internet but that's just not enough."  The Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which has funded healing groups, counseling sessions and cultural programs, likes Jason's idea. "We're open to that," said Mike DeGagne from the AHF. "We think it's a great idea. The more that we can engage them in helping us plan, helping us identify good healing practices, the better."   Jason's aunt, Helen Tolognak, survived residential school. "I was five years old when they grabbed me from under my mom's sewing table," she said."  Helen was flown by plane to Inuvik where she remained for 9 years.  "...I will  never let my grandchildren hop on that plane again." The AHF estimates there are 86,000 residential school survivors across Canada.

National Inuit Youth Council:

Transformation of a tree into a canoe
Five years ago, Yurok boat builder George Wilson donated a hand-carved canoe to the United Indian Health Services at the Potowat Health Village.  “It’s a symbol of a tradition and culture, a way of life from long ago, not lost, but still with us today,” said Jerry Simone of UIHS.  Wilson is also teaching traditional canoe making at Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods in Crescent City. Three donated redwood trees are being carved into three canoes. Two canoes will be river-ready. The third canoe will be 26 feet long and rugged enough to traverse the ocean. "The end idea is that the canoes will be part of tribal ceremonies, taken out on the water and used,” said Yurok Tribal representative Jeff Riggs. The Early College of the Redwoods is a public charter high school that blends culturally relevant instruction and the first two years of college.

Yurok in Canoe Photo By Edward curtis, 1923.“52

Marty Indian School Weaves Tradition Into Curriculum
South Dakota: Marty Indian School works in partnership with the Yankton Sioux Tribe and its communities.  American Indian traditions are part of the school's soul. The lobby  features tribal photos and treasures.  The gym is painted with tribal murals, and the Sioux National Anthem is sung before events. The school was even built to look like an eagle from up above. This incorporation of Native culture in the curriculum enhances strong academics.  "We work with No Child Left Behind and all the other requirements of other schools," said the high school principal, Bev Myer.  Among MIS projects:
Community leaders speak to students about tribal values, including traditional male and female roles and the importance of showing respect for each other;
The cultural values learned at home are reinforced at the school by the Lakota Legacy series;
Students incorporate Native values in science studies;
Students incorporate traditional values into their yearbook and journalism efforts;
American Indian values are reflected into the "We Are All Relatives" program, part of the CHARACTER COUNTS!  curriculum;
A health curriculum discusses Native health problems and encourages healthy eating and traditional foods;
A federal grant will be used tro incorporate the Dakota language into the curriculum. 

"At Marty, we incorporated the Native American values along with the six pillars of character -- trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship." said educator Tina Dangel.  Marty Indian School has about 90 high school students and 275 students in  K-12.  The school represents 14 tribes and 8 states, with dorms offered for boarding students. digest

Rough Rock drama students invited to Scottish festival
Arizona: The Native American Theater Project of Rough Rock High School will be among 50 schools invited to represent the U.S. in The Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  "The Fringe," which takes place in Scotland this August, the biggest arts festival in the world. Last year around 1800 individual shows were successfully produced.   Rough Rock, which is on the Navajo Reservation, is the first American Indian theater group ever invited to perform. The NATP will  perform an original script entitled ''Strong  Native Women.'' The troupe consists of  Ojibwe writer/director David Shorey and Navajo actresses Kayla Haley, Violetta  Sam and Andrea Woody.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe:

Germany's King of Rock to Assist Native American Children
South Dakota:  German rock superstar, Peter Maffay, visited children on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. He came to support the Lakota Circle Village Project.  The Lakota Circle's goal is to raise a new generation of Lakota-speaking children, and hopes to establish a Lakota language immersion school.   Maffay, who has sold over 35,000,000 albums, understands the importance of language -- he sings in the German language instead of English, which is more popular.   Maffay supports the Lakota Circle Village and other projects across the world that benefit children and promote cultural understanding.  He is now traveling to under-privileged communities to record a new benefit album dedicated to them. "Encounters II: An Alliance for Children," will be a collection of Maffay songs performed with musicians from each community. Proceeds from the album will go to children's charities.  "Encounters II is intended to take the world to the crisis spots, where the misery is the greatest and the children need our help," Maffay explained.  The album will bring together artists from around the globe, including South Africa, India, Korea, China, Ukraine, Romania, Palestine, Afghanistan, South America, and the Pine Ridge Indian reservation.  "The album is a statement against racism and for respect. We want to prove co-existence," says Maffay.
Lakota Circle Village
Peter Maffay Website:

Initiative aimed at keeping American Indian students in school
South Dakota:  During  2004-05, the Sioux Falls School District had a 13.27% dropout rate for Indian students.  That compares to 3.59% for white students.  In one system, of the 112 American Indian high school freshmen in 2002, only 13 graduated on time from city schools.  Keith Moore, the state's Indian education director, said the problem starts long before students enter middle or high school. "We're learning more and more each year how important womb to 3 is," he said.  "There are so many unfortunate statistics for us as Indians in those early years."  To help improve Indian education, South Dakota has come up with a 5-point plan. The goal is to:

Build a sense of belonging;
Provide strong role models;
Map out high school courses;
Include cultural values;
Expose students to a college campus.

  "Are we going to go through another century and talk about the same things or are we really going to try something?" Moore asked.  "Let's start trying to implement solutions even if they're not right. When you're in dire straits, it's hard to put an emphasis on education.  But Indian people need to do that.  Within our culture, our new buffalo is education."  The Bureau of Indian Affairs data shows that out of 100 Native American kids who start kindergarten, 45 complete high school, 4 go to college, and only 1 graduates from college. 
Associated Press

In the Northeast, winter can mean months of frigid temperatures and snow -- and endless hours in front of the tube.  Now, almost 500 regional schools have added snowshoeing to their phys-ed programs to combat rising rates of childhood obesity.  Snowshoes certainly aren't the only winter option, but for many schools they may be the most practical. Skis are expensive to buy and maintain, and ski lessons are too difficult and time-consuming for 45 minute gym classes. Meanwhile, purchasing snowshoes for a class of 30 students runs around $1,200.  Maintenance mostly is a matter of keeping them clean.

CCSD gets a visit from First Lady of the Navajo Nation
Nevada:  First Lady of the Navajo Nation, Vikki Shirley,  lost her daughter to a drunken driver. Recently she told Career Prep High School seniors about the dangers of mixing alcohol and cars.  "I am here to let you know what our family went through," said Shirley.  "To this day we still go through the struggle.  We, President (Joe) Shirley and myself, do not want you or your family to go through the same thing.  Please don't drink and drive."   The CPHS students were touched that she would share her story.  "It was sad," said Joshua Pettiegrew, 17.  "But it taught me that even they (the first couple) can lose someone.  It doesn't just happen to those who are down and not doing as well as them.


Touchy on Tests
Alberta: Aboriginal schools cite "cultural insensitivity" as the reason for not releasing scores from the province's 2005 Grades 3 and 6 achievement tests.  Mel Buffalo, head of the Indian Association of Alberta, said test results would enforce stereotypes about aboriginals without providing context.  ’It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out what the result is going to be."  He said aboriginal curriculum must be developed based on First Nations'  cultural and spiritual traditions. "The point is that we have a lot of people who maybe are not within the normal curve because of the cultural appropriateness of the test," Buffalo said.  With aboriginal youth truancy and crimes rising, aboriginal leaders hope a curriculum sensitive to aboriginal lifestyle will help them turn the tide.
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