American Indian Language Preservation at the Center of U of Arizona Institute

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri May 30 14:31:41 UTC 2008

American Indian Language Preservation at the Center of UA Institute

The American Indian Language Development Institute, now in its 29th
year, is working to preserve American Indian languages by teaching
educators and others how to preserve them.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Communications
May 29, 2008

Research has shown that students of color who learn in their native
language and are taught about their respective cultures and heritage
tend to perform better academically. That is one reason why The
University of Arizona's American Indian Language Development Institute
is working to preserve and revitalize indigenous languages and to also
help educators figure out ways to teach languages to others. "Our
native language means so much to us," said Regina L. Siquieros, the
institute's program coordinator and a member of the Tohono O'odham
Nation. "It is much more powerful than English and helps us to better
understand ourselves and to be better people." The annual summer
institute, part of the UA College of Education, is in its 29th year
and will be held at the University June 4 through July 12 with a focus
on American Indian educators and the classroom environment.

The institute promotes the idea that educators, parents, tribal
leaders and community members must be actively engaged to avoid the
loss of language and also preserve language. This year's theme is
"Creating Spaces for Indigenous Languages in Everyday Life" and,
concurrently, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2008 the
International Year of Languages. It is particularly important to
discuss the preservation of American Indian languages now –
particularly in the classrooms – because of recently approved
English-only mandates and legislation, Siquieros said. "Everything we
have worked so hard for is now in danger," she said. "But it is
important for us, as Native people, to be represented in all settings,
including the classroom. In the classroom, we need more support."

Another concern is the fact that most American Indian youth speak in
English, not their native languages, Siquieros said, adding that the
"Western society" has long pushed for assimilation rather than the
type of education that enables indigenous people to maintain their
languages and cultural heritage.

The institute has trained thousands of people since its inception,
such as educators, students, administrators, health care professionals
and others. Each year, the institute draws people from all over the
United States, Mexico and Canada. This year, one person from Australia
has registered to attend.

Divided into two streams, the institute offers six credits at both the
graduate and undergraduate levels, encouraging participants to become
researcher and bilingual and bicultural curriculum specialists, as
well as language teachers.

"Creating spaces for language involves both creativity and
determination – that is, a conviction that revitalizing endangered
languages is important – and finding ways to encourage students to use
their ancestral tongue," said Mary Carol Combs, an adjunct associate
professor at the UA who specializes in language planning and policy,
indigenous language revitalization and bilingual education law and

With an agenda of presentations and field trips, participants will
learn the implications of the No Child Left Behind legislation,
immersion methods, children's literature and writing, the particular
needs of American Indian students, endangered languages, and
linguistics and bilingualism. They will attend demonstrations and
lessons in indigenous languages, harvest Saguaro fruit – a
long-standing practice among the Tohono O'odham – and visit both Kitt
Peak and the Tohono O'odham Nation Cultural Center and Museum.

"This is an event in which immersion teachers can share what they do
and encourage others to teach only in the language," Combs said.

She will teach a course about indigenous language and identity in
films produced by filmmakers around the world, exploring whether films
can transmit language and culture, she said.

"We'll be looking at ways teachers can use indigenous films in
secondary classrooms, and at film as an alternative language text,"
Combs said, "as a non-traditional means of addressing issues of
importance to global and local indigenous communities."

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