New York Times article on the revival of the Arapaho language

Friday, October 17, 2008

HINONO' EITIINO' OOWU' - the Arapaho Language Lodge (check the slide show in the article for the photograph where this appears)

Here's an article on a subject you don't read about every day, and it's complete with an audio slide show as well.
More than a half-century later, only about 200 Arapaho speakers are still alive, and tribal leaders at Wind River, Wyoming’s only Indian reservation, fear their language will not survive. As part of an intensifying effort to save that language, this tribe of 8,791, known as the Northern Arapaho, recently opened a new school where students will be taught in Arapaho. Elders and educators say they hope it will create a new generation of native speakers.
Here, set against an endless stretch of windswept plains and tufts of cottonwoods, instructors are using a state-approved curriculum to teach students exclusively in Arapaho. All costs related to the school, which has an operating budget of $340,000 a year, are paid for by the tribe and private donors. Administrators plan to add a grade each year until it comprises pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade classes.
Well, $340,000 a year. For that amount there's no reason you couldn't keep a small language alive. It won't be guaranteed to survive, but educating a new generation of speakers shouldn't be that hard with this kind of serious funding behind the school.

This is a particularly interesting part:

According to tribal statistics and the United States Attorney’s Office in Wyoming, 78 percent of household heads on the reservation are unemployed, the student dropout rate is 52 percent and crime has been rising.

Most recently, in June, three teenage girls were found dead in a low-income housing complex. The F.B.I. has not yet released autopsy results, but many tribal members think drugs or alcohol were involved. The deaths left the reservation reeling. Officials here hope that the school will herald a positive change, just as programs elsewhere have helped native youth become conversational in their tribal languages, enhancing cultural pride and participation in the process. A groundswell of language revitalization efforts has led to successful Indian immersion schools in Hawaii, Montana and New York.

Studies show that language fluency among young Indians is tied to overall academic achievement, and experts say such learning can have other positive effects.

“Language seems to be a healing force for Native American communities,” said Ellen Lutz, executive director of Cultural Survival, a group based in Cambridge, Mass., that is working with the Northern Arapaho.
That part reminds me of mayor Boris Johnson who says that learning Latin (among other things) would be a good way to reduce crime. It's true on an "idle hands are the Devil's tools" type of level where giving people something to do with their day can only be a good thing, as well as the fact that education can only help but broaden a person's horizons, often giving the ability to take a dispassionate look at situations in life in which one might have reacted badly before.


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