Continuity and Change: The Contemporary Politics of Language and Cultural Revitalization for Indigenous Peoples in the U.S.

Tuesday, Apr 29, 2014 - Tuesday, Apr 29, 2014 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

691 Barrows Hall

Continuity and Change: The Contemporary Politics of Language and Cultural Revitalization for Indigenous Peoples in the U.S.
A Case for Concern in Lakota Language Revitalization: A Glimpse at Who’s Learning Lakota Today and Why
Tasha Hauff, Ethnic Studies
Estimates from the 2000 Census show that only 15 percent of Lakota people ages 5 and over have Lakota speaking ability. In addition, these numbers show that most fluent Lakota speakers are over 65 years of age. In 2010 the Rapid City Journal ran a series of articles focusing on the array of efforts to revitalize the Lakota language on and off South Dakota’s Lakota reservations. One article entitled “Vanishing Words, Vanishing Worlds. ‘When we lose a culture the whole world loses’” focuses on the obstacles Lakota revitalization faces currently on the Pine Ridge Reservation and begins with the haunting memory of the Indian boarding schools. This particular article quotes Lakota elder Wilma Thin Elk who says: “ I can’t understand why in our time we got hit for speaking our native language, and now, they want us to teach it to them.” She continues by explaining that she only teaches Lakota to her grandson. “I’m stingy with my language,” she says. Thin Elk’s concern about who is learning the Lakota language is a common one in Lakota country. Even well known language activists like the late Albert White Hat Sr. noted this concern in his popular Lakota language-learning manual published in the 1990s. Yet, concerns about who learns an endangered language alongside being “stingy” with the language seem antithetical to the rhetoric of Lakota language revitalization organizations gaining popularity today. This paper seeks to take Thin Elk’s concern seriously and attempts to understand the shift in dominant society’s attitude toward the Lakota language. Who is learning Lakota today? Why do non-Natives want to learn the Lakota language? Further, how can we understand Lakota language revitalization within the larger context of concurrent settler colonialism? Using information gathered from a prominent online Lakota language-learning forum, this paper seeks to explicate who is learning Lakota and why. In addition, this paper shows how some efforts to grow the number of Lakota language speakers inadvertently contribute to a broader phenomenon of non-Indians “Going Native.” In this way, non-Natives learning Lakota today remains part and parcel to the conquest of indigenous peoples.
Carceral Constellations: Indigenous Educators and Frank Waln’s “Oil for Blood” in Deconstructing Deviance and Promoting Culturally-Relevant Education
Tria Andrews, Ethnic Studies
In contemporary, mainstream discourses surrounding the education of young people of color, the School-to-Prison Pipeline is a frequently evoked term meant to highlight the trend of students funneled from schools to the criminal justice system. Yet for Native American children in the U.S., education, since its inception, has been inextricably linked to the prison. Captain Richard Henry Pratt, who based his philosophy for assimilating Native American students on his experiences disciplining Native prisoners, founded the first boarding school, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, in 1879. Scholars in Native American Studies frequently recognize the boarding schools as a form of incarceration, which functioned to discipline and punish Native bodies through violence: “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man.” However, there is a dearth of research on the ways that American educators who followed Pratt employed more sophisticated methods and rhetoric in working to assimilate Indigenous youth in the U.S. and abroad.
This paper opens with “Oil for Blood,” a 2013 music video created by Lakota rap artist, Frank Waln, whose lyrics state, “Free all my people. / Get them out of prison. / Take them to Sundance. / Show them how we’re living.” Waln’s lyrics link Lakota imprisonment to cultural disconnect and propose reconnecting with Lakota spiritual practices as a source of positivity, strength, and a way of life. Waln’s writing and performance raise important questions that are central to this paper: Do Native administrators and educators in present day believe that learning about Indigenous cultures is important for Indigenous children, and if so, why? Where do educators propose that should children learn about Indigenous cultures and embodied practices, for instance, the home, the school, a tribally-run juvenile hall? And when appropriating colonial education paradigms to teach youth Indigenous practices and values, what elements from colonial curricula models have contemporary Indigenous educators adopted?
This paper focuses on a tribally-run detention center founded in 2005 on an Indian reservation in the U.S. to investigate the continuities and changes in pedagogies and curricula from colonial to contemporary day. This paper posits that American colonial educators associated Indigeneity with deviance; therefore, they understood assimilation as a necessary component of education and rehabilitation. Conversely, Indigenous educators in present day largely view reconnecting with cultural practices as integral to the education and rehabilitation of Indigenous youth.

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