Language Revitalization Efforts by Kiera Lasiloo

Language Revitalization Efforts by Kiera Lasiloo

Kiera Lasiloo is from the Zuni and Cochiti Pueblos. Currently she attends the Institute of American Indian Arts, where she majors in New Media Arts - Moving Images.

Date Posted: 
2010-08-03 00:00

Blog Series:

The Indigenous Language Institute is doing all it can to combat the extinction of indigenous languages, a vital part of Native people’s identity. Native American stories, history and prayers are all passed down orally. But Native American languages are disappearing at an alarming rate. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, there are 191 endangered languages in the United States, 74 of which are listed as critically endangered.

The Indigenous Language Institute's Guiding Philosophy is to create speakers of endangered indigenous languages while there are still speakers left. The institute is working to turn the tide of indigenous language decline within 10 years so that those languages can become a vibrant component of everyday life in Native communities. First founded in 1992 as the Institute for the Preservation of the Original Languages of the Americas by Joanna Hess, the institute has been working diligently to preserve and spread original indigenous languages throughout Native communities.

The institute offers a number of resources to communities and individuals interested in participating, including workshops geared at producing digital stories, films, textbooks, teaching aids and other types of media in the participant's language. "Two of the workshops that are quite popular, that we like to share with everyone is our technology workshops,” said Rachael Nez, workshop coordinator for the institute. “One is creating short videos using your language, and the other is creating print materials, like broachers, calendars and storybooks in your language."

Nez said the institute has worked with numerous Native American communities throughout the United States, providing different types of training and workshops to help communities make languages visible and accessible. With the use of technology, the institute is trying to bridge the gap between Native elders and youth. The institute strives to help community members create quality multimedia projects and stories that they can then take back to their communities and utilize.

Advocates for Native language preservation say language loss has hurt Native youth, who have struggled to connect to their culture and find an identity. Daisy Thompson, director of the Albuquerque school district's Indian Education Department, told the Associated Press in a July 2009 story that research shows that becoming disconnected from their culture leads to a lack of motivation among Native American students and can leave students behind academically.

In the same article, Inee Slaughter, the executive director of the Institute said, while tribes nationwide often offer summer Native language programs, it's uncommon for them to be offered in public schools. She went on to say that New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington lead the country in licensing Native Americans to teach their languages in public schools.

The institute’s efforts have not gone unnoticed: Their workshop, “Ancient Voices, Modern Tools: Native Languages and Technology,” was the national winner of the Third Annual Verizon Tech Savvy Awards. The institute was awarded a $25,000 grant to expand and continue their work. “I'd like to see the institute really grow,” Nez said. “So we can help a lot more people, reach a lot more communities and be able to do everything that everyone wants.”

It seems the Institute is well on its way to that goal.

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