Number of Native Speakers Dwindling

This week I learned that the number of native speakers left in the community where I work has dwindled to 268.

It is a disheartening fact that will only accelerate over time. Some speakers see this as motivation to do whatever it takes to ensure that the language survives, while others are so saddened that they can barely talk about it.

At the same time I was in a meeting with 5 speakers who were lamenting the fact that their tribal government has more or less declared that they are doing all they can (or will) do to support language revitalization. While it is true that the tribe is supporting a small immersion program (30 children) and does support various community programs as well, the speakers wanted the government to elevate language programming to its own department of the government. This would prevent language and cultural programs from being forced to compete with recreation, education and other community programs for funding. In the present economy gaming revenues are down, as well as tourism and other key pieces of the tribe’s economy so all programs are feeling the pinch. Things have come to the point that priorities have to be established and for a government those must center around emergency services, public works and other crucial programs.

So, the people in the meeting decided that they would organize themselves as an entity outside the government dedicated to the language and it’s survival. I have to point out that while this is the norm in other successful language revitalization movements, things haven’t worked that way here — yet.

The only people in this world who actually have an investment in what it means to speak this language are going to have to be the ones who step up and fight for its survival. More on this later…

Heidi M. Altman

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