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Language Revitalization Starts With You

Guest speaker Danielle Lansing from the Family Engagement Initiatives at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) once taught some of the Salt River royalty at SRES. Lansing writes down their ideas about language revitalization at the sharing visit.

On June 30, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community O’odham Piipaash Language Program (OPLP) hosted the American Indian College Fund’s (AICF) Innovations in Language Revitalization Sharing Visit at the Cultural Resources Department Building. Twenty guests filled the room to listen to guest speakers from AICF and three tribal communities from across Indian Country.

“We need to encourage each other and push each other. This is a very important program in our Community. I am so glad that people on a national level are doing things,” said SRPMIC President Delbert W. Ray, Sr., who offered a blessing and welcome address to those in attendance. “For me, one element I really want to see is acceptance. People are afraid to speak their language, and we should try to encourage them. If you believe in something, you need to work at it. Language is very important.”

AICF Vice-President of Program Initiatives Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz led the discussion on various language-revitalization efforts within three different Native American communities through a PowerPoint presentation and group work sessions.

Various departments who play a key role in language revitalization within the SRPMIC, all participated in the sharing visit at the Cultural Resources building. They wrote down their goals and offered ideas on how they could help keep the language thriving within the Community.
The speakers were Tipi Tolman, from the Lakota Language Nest at Sitting Bull College; Jana Harcharek, from the Inupiat Learning Framework; and Danielle Lansing, from the Family Engagement Initiatives at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute. Each shared their experiences in teaching their languages through local community-based programs.

The information was provided to Community members who will eventually work toward developing a Community-based program here similar to the ones presented. The attendees brainstormed, examining the pros, cons and barriers of different language-revitalization programs, all with the overall goal of revitalizing the Piipaash and O’odham languages for future generations.

“We deal a lot with our elderly, both the Pima and Maricopa elders,” said Curriculum Development Specialist-Piipaash Ron Carlos. “Right now we’re trying to document as much as we can. Although there are [language] differences from the past and how they speak now, we just need to document a lot of that information and hopefully we can use what they teach or tell us. Maybe even a language school to help teach younger people. Over time, language does change. All languages change. Documenting all that, we will be able to go back and say, ‘This is how [a particular word or phrase] used to be said.’ It’ll help us out in the future.”

(back) AICF Vice-President of Program Initiatives Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, (front, L-R) Danielle Lansing, from the Family Engagement Initiatives at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute; Jana Harcharek, from the Inupiat Learning Framework; and Tipi Tolman, from the Lakota Language Nest at Sitting Bull College all participate in a group discussion.
“I think it’s really important that we learn the language, especially as youth, because eventually it’s going to be on us to pass it down,” said Miss Salt River Mikah Carlos. “I know for some of us we don’t have the opportunity to learn from our parents, but we can be the change if we learn now. Then, we can pass it on to our children and all future generations. That’s why I want to learn the language. I want to bridge that gap.”

“Language revitalization can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” said OPLP Piipaash Education Specialist Michelle Johnson. “For me, it’s being able to look inside yourself and want to learn the language. It’s also for us teachers or elders to look inside ourselves and want to teach and share the language. For revitalization, it’s an effort on both parts.”

For more information about language revitalization, call the OPLP at (480) 362-6325.

CRD Director Kelly Washington writes his groups' goals down during the sharing visit.