ELL: clamor

Richard A. Grounds richard-grounds at utulsa.edu
Thu Mar 25 08:00:14 UTC 1999

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  At 10:12 AM 3/21/99 -0500, you wrote:
  >It would also be pleasant to hear about the work of other people.  I've
  >enjoyed, and have been informed, hearing about the work with Akha, but
  >there are many other works in progress.
  >Tom McClive
  >State University of New York at Buffalo
  >mcclive at acsu.buffalo.edu

On the 9th of December 1994 the General Assembly of the United Nations
declared the Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004) as part
of an effort to bring international attention to the plight of an estimated
300 million indigenous community members in more than 70 countries.

On Febrary 27th here in Tulsa the local committee for the U. N. Decade of
Indigenous Peoples again held our annual celebration dinner. The work of
younger language learners was recognized this year as part of a
continuation of the previous year's awards.

During last year's event we held a workshop with storytelling in the local
Native languages and we recognized the work of four elders in passing
forward their language.  We gave framed awards written entirely in the
language of each recipient: Leonard Thompson in Lenape (Delaware), Lottie
Pratt in Osage, Maggie Marsey in Yuchi, and Evans Ray Satepauhoodle in
Kiowa.  When I recieved my Ph.D. to recognize the specialized knowledge
that I had acquired the text was written in Latin--which I had never
studied and could not read.  The Committee hoped to reverse--at least
symbolically--the centuries-old pattern of universalizing European
languages as the priviledged languages of the educated within a colonial
structure.  Instead we sought to elevate particular indigenous languages as
the domain of gifted and knowledgable persons within local communities.
Each award was signed by a representative of the Native nation, a leader of
the Decade Committee under Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries, and Julian Burger
of Geneva, Switzerland with the United Nations Center for Human Rights.

At the celebration for this year we gave recognition awards to two younger
community members for their successes in learning their language of
heritage as a second language.  Daryl Baldwin, member of the Miami Nation
of Indiana, was recognized for his reclamation work in the Miami language.
The letter of nomination from the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma Language &
Culture Preservation Committee was quite moving:
"It is important for you to know that the Miami People have no fluent
speakers.  The last fluent speaker died in the late 1950's.  We have
extensive written records of our language but the language has been dormant
for over 40 years.  It was not until Daryl began working with the language
with intent of "speaking" that serious work began."
Mr. Baldwin was cited for his extensive work with the communities in
Indiana and Oklahoma in preparing teaching materials and initiating an
annual summer language camp.  He studied linguistics in a Master's program
at the University of Montana specifically for purposes of applying his
acquired skills to the Miami language.  He has worked to reconstruct the
language from old tapes and through comparison with related languages.  For
many attendees the most memorable part of the evening was Mr. Baldwin's
playing of an audio tape of his two pre-adolescent daughters speaking
freely in the language.  It is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Baldwin had
to assist with the translation of his own award certificate into the Miami

The other recognition went to Richard Codopony, Jr. for his work as a
community scholar and successful student of the Comanche language.  The
current community language work among Comanches was summarized by Ronald
Red Elk, chairman of the Comanche Language and Cultural Preservation
Committee, which has been active in kindergarten age programming and in
Master/Apprentice efforts.  Carney Saupitty, who translated the award into
Comanche, addressed the gathering in Comanche language and  spoke on behalf
of Mr. Codopony with whom he has worked in the Master/Apprentice program.
Mr. Codopony's efforts in learning the language was extolled as a hopeful
example of the possibilities for success in acquiring facility in the
traditional language.  In a previous videotaped interview for the
Intertribal Wordpath Society Mr. Codopony spoke of how the process of
learning the language has greatly influenced his art work rendering a more
hopeful dimension and new depth to his paintings.

The work of these younger community members is inspiring and offers promise
for the 27 endangered indigenous languages here in Oklahoma.  According to
estimates from the Intertribal Wordpath Society, perhaps 1/3 of the
previously spoken languages are now no longer heard in Oklahoma.  Even the
largest language communities, such as the Cherokee, Creek, and  Choctaw
find themselves with very few speakers below the age of 60.  For almost all
of the smaller communities (with the notable exception of Kickapoo), the
situation is even more critical.  There are about 30 speakers of Ponca and
Caddo.  Less than 10 fluent speakers of Lenape (Delaware), Pawnee, Wichita,
Iowa, and Sauk languages.  The Yuchi language has perhaps five fully fluent
The awards were offered in the light of these dire circumstances for the
purpose of bringing encouragement and visibility to the language work that
is being carried out here in Oklahoma by a scattered group of fluent
elders, parents, children, and language activists with some significant
support from linguistics scholars.  Our communities are in great need of
hope in their struggles to pass forward their languages to future generations.

At the beginning of the U.N.'s International Decade of the World's
Indigenous Peoples, Ingrid Washinawatok--who was the tragic victim of
political murder earlier this month during her work with the U'wa people of
Colombia--spoke as the first chairperson for the Decade, calling for the
voices of indigenous peoples to be heard:  "We must unlock the silence of
our people.  Unlock the silence and let us speak to the world."

*  *  *  *

Richard A. Grounds		richard-grounds at utulsa.edu
Dept. of Anthropology			1-918-631-3759 (office)
University of Tulsa				       1-918-631-2540 (fax)
Tulsa, OK  74104  USA
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