Preserving Native Tongues: Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair Receives $20,000 Grant for Language Revitalization Efforts
KOKH - September 5, 2023 6:23 am
NORMAN (KOKH) — One of the longest-running museum programs at the Sam Noble Museum, the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, has received a $20,000 grant from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.
For over 20 years now the Native American Youth Language Fair has gathered students from across the state and the nation at the Sam Noble Museum in Norman during the first week of April, with students striving to master and carry on traditional tribal languages in hopes of keeping the historic languages alive.
According to Doctor Raine Heaton, the director of the Oklahoma Native American Language Fair, Oklahoma is a hotspot for language endangerment.
“Native American languages are incredibly important to the fabric of who not just native people are but who all of us are sort of from a linguistics perspective,” she said, “Nearly half of the languages on the planet are endangered.”
With many of the languages mostly having elder speakers, it can be hard for some languages to survive.
According to the 2016 US Census, 73% of Native Americans aged five and older only speak English, and according to the Indigenous Language Institute, there were once more than 300 indigenous languages spoken in the United States, but now there are only about 175.
“So you know, you have to fight the dominance of English in order to pass those on, so trying to provide those spaces is special and bring together people that do similar kinds of work,” Heaton said, “Supporting languages and doing language revitalization is really important to us.”
The Sam Noble Museum at OU hosts the event that gives kids and teens the opportunity to learn the native languages of the nearly 40 different Native American tribes in the state.
“The Language fair is the biggest and best-attended event that the museum hosts annually,” said Heaton, “Usually we have something like 30/40 different languages being spoken in the same place on the same day, and I think this is the only place maybe in the nation that we can say that that happens for native languages.”
Organizers of the fair are very grateful for the $20,000 grant that will help them fund and expand this year’s event.
“So basically, the grant goes to our regular annual operating expenses,” Heaton said, “It also goes to programming like our speakers, so we have invited speakers every year… this year actually we have a special guest who is Marwin Begaye from the OU School of Visual Arts. He’s a Navajo printmaker.”
This year’s Native American Youth Language Fair will be held on the first and second of April at the Sam Noble Museum on the campus of the University of Oklahoma. It is free and open to the public.
The Sam Noble Museum has an exhibit opening on October 13th about the languages fair.