NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — The United States is home to 574 federally recognized Tribal Nations and within those tribes are many, many languages.
But several of the traditional Native American languages are on the brink of extinction.
Revitalizing endangered Native American languages is a top priority for indigenous communities everywhere.
Some Native leaders say their people did not lose their languages, they were stolen from them by the government in the 1800s.
“They took their clothing that they would normally wear. They cut their hair. If they had their indigenous name, then they were told to pick a Christian name. And if they spoke their language, they were hurt,” said Annette Mennem, the Native American Center director for Minot State University.
Tribal Nations are said to have taken many steps to ensure younger generations learn the traditional languages.
Language revitalization is a key empowerment tool for communities and the language is a matter of cultural survival.
“Tribal Nations are doing a fabulous job right now, fabulous job, bringing back the language. We’re still doing our powwows and dance. And our kids, our students are learning the ways. How to be a good hunter, how to be a good gatherer, how to speak your language,” said Mennem.
Mennem added that there are several challenges to revitalizing Native Languages, but one stands out.
“The irony today is when you talk to the people that are teaching the language. I say, what’s your biggest challenge? And they said you know what the biggest challenge is right now is to come up with words that never existed back then. Like a computer. So, like we call it ‘box of knowledge’,” Mennem said.
Menem hopes that through traditional languages, people see Native Americans for who they really are: a great contribution to what the world is today.
She hopes everyone will one day learn some of the ancient dialects for themselves.
Mennem left with, “so, I’m not going to say goodbye, what I’m going to say is Giga-waabamin naagaj, I’ll see you when I see you.”
For many of our tribal nations, they did not say goodbye forever to their language.
Instead, through the strength of their nations today, they are bringing them back home once again.