[lg policy] US: Recent Studies and Current Issues of the Language Policy [of American Indian boarding institutions ]

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 23 14:55:42 UTC 2010

Recent Studies and Current Issues of the Language Policy
By Sally Wide

In the past decade, the study of American Indian boarding institutions
has grown into one of the richest areas of American Indian historical
scholarship. The best of this scholarship has moved beyond an
examination of the federal policies that drove boarding school
education to consider the experiences of American Indian children
within the schools and the responses of native students and parents to
school policies, programs, and curricula.

Recent studies by some outstanding researchers have used archival
research, oral interviews, and photographs to consider the history of
boarding institutions from American Indian/Alaska Native perspectives.
In doing so, they have begun to uncover the meaning and long-term
implications of boarding school education for native children,
families, and communities, past and present.

By highlighting native people's resistance to cultural assimilation
and institutional control, these studies of Indian boarding schools
illuminate the gulf between the intentions of federal assimilation
policy and its ultimate results. In fact, far from eradicating
traditional cultures, boarding school experiences actually facilitated
cultural persistence and invigoration in a number of unintended ways.

An important author argues that the friendships students forged across
tribal lines contributed to a pan-Indian identity that encouraged
native people to work together for political and cultural
self-determination in the 20th century, and adds that interacting with
children from other cultural traditions also worked to reinforce
students' own unique tribal identities and encouraged them to maintain
distinct cultural practices.

The pan-Indianism that grew out of the boarding school experience did
tend to reinforce the English language as a common medium of
communication among students from various tribes. This, along with
punishment for speaking tribal languages with fellow speakers, also
prompted the increased use of English by Native Americans amongst
themselves when boarding school students returned home.

The boarding institutional experience also imbued a sense among many
of those who returned to the reservation that the "old ways" and
tribal language were relics of the past. To many returnees, Natives
dressing traditionally and speaking tribal languages were perceived as
throwbacks when compared with the lifestyle of a "modern" Indian.
Also, as language use began to shift in many American/Alaska Native
communities, the change was slow, incremental, and not readily

Only after considerable language loss had occurred did communities
began taking notice, especially in settings where the native language
was integral to ceremony, ritual, and the transmission of traditional
knowledge. For these reasons, tribal languages became more reduced in
their domains of daily use, especially when coupled with increased
reliance on literacy, which in almost all cases existed only in

As native people are aware of the legacy of the boarding schools and
the effects it has had on them, the issue of language loss has become
a particular focal point of concern. According to the Indigenous
Language Institute, of the more than 300 languages spoken in the
United States at the time of European contact, only 175 remain, and
many of those have just a few speakers left. The U.S. government has
acknowledged its role in this massive loss of native language through
the agency of boarding schools and has offered congressional redress.

Sally has been writing articles quite a long time. Come visit her
latest website over at http://showerdoor-seals.com which helps people
find the best Shower Door Seals and information they are looking for.

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