March 10, 2014

Teaching Cherokee in Schools


The languages of Native American tribes are a dying art. And in Oklahoma, they are also a part of the state’s history. Now Keith Kocinski takes us there to see what the state is doing to extend the legacy of those languages.

Shawneesee Hernandez: So, hello is hatito, right? Ok, so hatita hoasee, hatito?

Keith: This is Shawneesee Hernandez on the phone with her mother. She is asking how to say hello in the Shawnee tribal language. Shawneesee’s heritage includes at least three of the thirty-nine federally recognized American Indian tribes. And like many young Native Americans, she struggles with learning her native tongue.

Shawneesee: That it would be a required class, which would be really great for me.

Keith: Thanks to a rule change by the Oklahoma State Education Department, Shawneesee’s wish may soon be a reality. The new rule allows for competent instructors to teach under the supervision of a regularly certified teacher. This means tribal members or linguists can teach students native languages and students would earn foreign language credit. Tribal students make up about 27% of the student body at Miami schools in Oklahoma.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Darr: We’re just really excited to be able to offer this for our students and for our Native American heritage in our area and really keep that culture alive.

Keith: But with at least 15 tribes represented at Miami high school alone, making this a reality may be difficult.

In 1997, one hundred seventy-five different Native American languages were spoken in the U.S., which was just over half of what once existed. But since then, as many as fifty-five of those languages have been lost. The languages just aren’t being passed down to the next generation.

All of the American Indian languages spoken in Oklahoma are considered endangered. The state’s education department hopes the opportunity will increase the number of fluentrat speakers.

Keith Kocinski, Channel One News.

Scott: The new language classes haven’t started yet, but the district said it will be discussing the opportunity at a parent meeting next month.


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