The Western Hemisphere has more distinctly different native languages than any other part of the world. Language is an important part of cultural identity. When Europeans first arrived in what is now the United States, more than 300 different languages were spoken. Today, only 175 remain, but many are only spoken by a small number of elderly people, and are in danger of disappearing.
When a language becomes extinct, it can take along with it much of the history and culture of the people who spoke it. The loss of Native languages was hastened by U.S. government policies that focused on assimilating Native Americans into western culture. Many Native American children were sent to government-run boarding schools where they were prohibited from speaking their languages. The Native American Languages Act of 1990 recognizes the language rights of American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. The Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act of 2006 helps to keep Native American languages alive by providing federal grants to Native American language immersion programs. Courtesy of The Leadership Conference, the Nation's Premier Civil & Human Rights Coalition.
SUSAN SHANNON, HOST: This last week it was announced that Miami University in Ohio and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma are expanding the native language project that they collaborate on, known as the Myaamia Project . It has grown into the Myaamia Center. Daryl Baldwin, a member of the Miami Tribe and Director of the center, was present at last year’s Breath of Life Workshop held at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History in Norman, Oklahoma . Dr. Mary Linn, Associate Curator of Native Languages at the Sam Noble said this is a real boost.
DR MARY LINN: It puts it on a higher level for a university system and which means that the University, although Miami University has always given them much credit and has worked very well with them, it actually puts them on a level where they can receive more funding, they get more research sources internally, it just puts them at a higher level. It’s kind of like moving from an assistant professor to an associate professor level. That kind of thing within a university system in that way, it’s really good. For the Myaamia language, formerly project now center, of course you know its again those resources will go back into their programming and their desires to build in different ways so it can only be good for them as well.
SHANNON: And what is the good connection for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma?
LINN: Well, the three have always worked really closely together, so you have the Miami University, you have the Myaamia Project that was started separately by several families and you have the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and the three of those have always been working together towards the same goals. So a lot of what the students, Miami students, Miami citizens in Oklahoma, can go to Miami University as Miami students and they get the in-state tuition, they get all the perks they have for being part of the Miami Tribe. In that way students in Oklahoma, Miami citizens students in Oklahoma, really get a good deal they get to go to that program as well. And then a lot of their rather off site programming actually happens in Oklahoma as well, so their summer camp , their summer language camp takes place on Miami land in northeast Oklahoma. And so that's all, it’s all done through the Myaamia Center, the planning and that kind of thing. So there's a lot of benefits that they have.
SHANNON: Linn say the technology developed at the Myaamia Center benefits Miami tribal members in Oklahoma.
LINN: They used to have a pen that they, you could go over a writing and it would pronounce the words for you and a lot of the Miami citizens in Oklahoma had used those pens at home. That technology was developed there at the Myaamia Project now Center. They have a new one that's actually done through cell phones through, you know, your bar code on your cell phone. And they developed that there at the Miami University, part of the Myaamia Project but certainly the citizens in Oklahoma, uh, the Miami citizens benefit from that because they...it’s all freeware for them and they get to use it. They just came out with their new 2013 calendar because they do it on the lunar year and the lunar New Year for Myaamia was in March, early March. And those are all developed there but the citizens here, they all get those calendars, so...(laughs)
SHANNON: Man, what a collaborative effort!
LINN: It is in my opinion it is exemplary, the level of collaboration between the tribe, the language advocates and learners in the tribe and Miami University. I think that it is a role model for all university and tribal collaborations.
SHANNON: That was Dr. Mary Linn, Assistant curator of native languages at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History talking about the former Myaamia Project becoming the Myaamia Center at Ohio’s Miami University.