Nov 18, 2014 - Native Language Revitalization Efforts from the Grassroots by Matt Remle

For the month of October, the Urban Native Education Alliance (UNEA), based in Seattle, WA, brought together Native language instructors to teach traditional languages to urban Native youth and community members. Hosted in Seattle’s historic Indian Heritage school, youth and community members had the opportunity to attend Native language instruction classes every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month. Language instructors taught classes in Lushootseed, Apache, Ojibwe, Tlingit and Lakota.

Lakota language learners

I was honored to be asked to teach the Lakota language track and work with other language instructors who are deeply committed to the revitalization of our traditional languages. Often, in our tribal communities, we express our anger towards the stripping of our traditional languages by the U.S. in their government sponsored, church ran, boarding schools, and rightfully so, but less often do we engage in efforts to revitalize and strengthen our traditional languages.

Over the course of the month hundreds of youth, elders and community members gained language instruction in the truest of grassroots efforts. Each session opened with a community dinner followed by groups breaking off to receive language instruction.

For me personally, the experience was owanyang waste lo (beautiful). The Lakota language group was a generational mix of young learners’ ages 6 to 7 all the way to elders. I also enlisted co-instruction support from my three wakanyeja (children) ages 7, 10 and 16 who not only helped me develop lessons plans, but also led several activities like the kids games Rock, Paper, Scissors and Head and Shoulders all in Lakota.

By the second week, it was amazing to see our youngest of students stepping forward to help assist older students, as well as, utilizing the Lakota they learned outside of the classroom.

Lakota language learners, learned to introduce themselves in Lakota, along with everyday conversation, games, songs and basic commands.

Native youth learning how to introduce himself in Lakota

The efforts of UNEA showed that Native language revitalization can exist beyond simply writing grants to Federal agencies, or other bureaucratic avenues, and that simply investing time, energy and effort on the grassroots level can have lasting and real change.

Given the dire situation many of our traditional languages linger in, grassroots efforts are needed across Turtle Island from the cities to the rez’s to revive the languages of our ancestors. Reviving our languages is perhaps one of the most essential areas we need to focus our energies on given that our languages defined who and what we are as indigenous peoples.

Last Real Indians