- Associated Press - Sunday, June 12, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - A Bloomington-based nonprofit is working to save Native American languages by increasing awareness and making dying languages more accessible to people of all ages.

The Language Conservancy primarily works with tribes in western states because there are no Native American languages in danger of extinction in Indiana, The Indianapolis Star (https://indy.st/1UD3e8r) reported.

The organization estimates that more than more than half of the world’s languages will disappear within the next century. A culture’s songs, stories, value and history are at risk when there aren’t enough new language learners to make up for the amount of native speakers who die each year.

“Tens of thousands of years of culture and continuity all just disappears when the last speaker dies because the things they shared over those tens of thousands of years are gone,” said Wil Meya, the group’s executive director. “A dictionary doesn’t capture everything about a culture or language - it’s just a word list.”

In an effort to gain as many speakers and learners as possible, the Language Conservancy is co-organizing the third annual Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Summer Institute from June 27 to July 8 in North Dakota. Anyone who’s interested in learning three endangered languages - Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara - will be taught how to read, write and speak them, as well as partake in cultural activities.

“For us, it’s a survival issue,” said Bernadine Young Bird, one of the 100 remaining fluent speakers of Hidatsa. “Everything is embedded in our language, it’s a foundation of who we are. Once we lose that we’ll be basically inactive because we won’t have that knowledge that makes us who we are.”

She said it’s especially important to protect a language because no one else treasures a Native American language except its tribe.

“We have to treasure it because it’s who we are. It’s a gift for us to use from the creators,” Young Bird said. “Every day we’re losing elders who know the language. There’s so much work to be done, and it gets so overwhelming sometimes, but I’m glad to do what I can each day.”

The organization also has created interactive textbooks and children’s songs to build a way to teach the languages.


Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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