Elder Speaker issues

James Crippen jcrippen at GMAIL.COM
Fri Mar 21 02:48:14 UTC 2008

On Thu, Mar 20, 2008 at 4:28 PM, Terry J. Klokeid
<klokeid at victoria.tc.ca> wrote:
> Thanks for these comments and references.
>  Just to clarify about our situation: there are Elder Speakers who
>  attend a pre-school every week, with their job being to speak to the
>  children. This is not in a vacuum at any level - there is strong
>  community support, with the community having directed the Band
>  Council to spend some of their federal funding on language recovery.
>  And we have assembled a lot of materials that the speakers can use,
>  and held training sessions over the past three years. Without
>  constant reminding and prodding, the speakers either fall silent and
>  just sit there or start speaking English to the children and parents,
>  or find reasons of many different sorts as to why they cannot
>  participate. The people doing the prodding and reminding are trained
>  professionals and they do this in a gentle and respectful way, there
>  is no negativity from them.

Have you tried discussing these issues plainly in one-on-one sessions
with the speakers? Getting over the English habit is one problem, but
can be overcome with various strategies that make it humorous.
However, getting over the reluctance to speak is an entirely different
problem. Having one-on-one sessions where you plainly and explicitly
discuss their reluctance can be one way of doing it, even though it
may seem unpleasant and insensitive.

Sometimes elders need to be pushed really hard into doing things,
since they've lived a long life and get tired of all the bullshit
after a while. Sometimes you almost have to browbeat them into
cooperating, and it feels terrible to do so, but keep in mind that
you're doing something that is far more important than your feelings
or the feelings of the elders. You're working for their great
grandchildren that they will never know.

Another suggestion is what Alice Taff mentioned, having sessions where
the speakers all sit together and talk in private. This can help
loosen their tongues when they learn again how good it can feel to
speak the language. After a time you can try including a quiet and
very attentive child or two in the situation. This can encourage the
child as well as give the elders a sense of purpose.

God help you if you have a situation like I've run into a few times,
where speakers just hate each other for personality or personal
history reasons. This is far harder to deal with, and requires that
you essentially guilt them into working together, and appeal to their
senses of charity and patriotism to get over petty differences.
Sometimes even this doesn't work, and you just have to give up and try
to find someone else. If there's nobody else, go back and try again,
even if it kills you.

I believe Stephen Greymorning wrote about dealing with uncooperative
speakers in a similar situation to yours in his Arapaho revitalization
program. Here's the reference, if I'm not mistaken. I don't have the
book on hand however, so it might be a different article. Anyway, he
talks about how to get past elder speakers who just don't try very
hard to talk to kids, and how to get the kids talking to them first to
push the elders into cooperating.

Greymorning, Stephen. 2004. "Hinono'eitiino'oowu' and the work of
language survival". Ch. 14, pp. 212-224 in "A will to survive:
Indigenous essays on the politics of culture, language, and identity".
New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-249638-X.

Best wishes,

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