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Background

Oklahoma is home to many languages; but all of them are endangered. They range from Modoc with no remaining speakers to Cherokee with several thousand. All are in a declining state of use, being crowded out of existence by English. Like endangered species, endangered languages are in danger of extinction; and once lost, they can never been recreated. When languages die, the associated culture and history and part of Indian identity are lost as well. One-third of Oklahoma's Indian languages are already gone.

There are ongoing efforts by most tribes to reverse the process by teaching and documenting their languages of heritage. These include classes in public schools and universities, community-based and tribally funded programs in local communities, government-funded initiatives, and individual efforts operating with no funding whatsoever. Yet the remaining speakers are still dying at a rate that far exceeds the rate of languages renewal. More funding, technical assistance, classrooms, and teaching materials are urgently needed. In some tribes the last remaining speakers are in their 80s; in very few are there any children growing up with native fluency.


What does I.W.S. do?

We assist Oklahoma language preservation with:

  • fund raising
  • public speaking
  • Wordpath television show
  • exhibits and educational programs for the general public
  • production of language-related items
  • information archives
  •  teacher training and publications
  • workshops
  • demonstration projects
  • advice on alphabets, materials, and curricula.
  • annual Celebration of Oklahoma Indian Language and Culture, held in Norman the second Friday before Halloween.


Philosophy

IWS is guided by key beliefs about languages, learning, and teaching:

  • All Oklahoma Indian languages are threatened, and the survival of each is important.
  • The link between language and culture is crucial, and the two need to be taught together.
  • The key to language survival is the transmission of the language from generation to generation in daily life. Therefore it is essential that the remaining fluent elders teach the children of today their languages of heritage, so that this generational link can be reestablished.
  • While governments and schools can play a very important role in language survival, individual language teachers, language learners, and community programs not affiliated with such institutions are just as important.
  • We help programs become self-sustaining once they are underway.
  • We are non-discriminatory in our dealings with individuals of different tribal, geographic, and dialect backgrounds -- encouraging cooperation and inclusiveness.
  • We operative in an earth-friendly way, up to the limits of our budget.


What You Can Do

The Intertribal Wordpath Society is leading the way -- fighting for the survival of these precious cultural resources. Our name says it; we must be warriors fighting for Indian languages. We ask you to help in these ways:

  • Tell Oklahoma Indian language teachers and preservationists about IWS. Contact us for additional copies of the brochure.
  • Give us your financial support. We need contributions of all sizes.
  • Contact us if you would like to be an IWS volunteer, including joining the Wordpath television crew.
  • Ask us about internship opportunities.

 


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Images ©2004-7 America Meredith. Site designed and maintained by America Meredith.