Navajo Code Talkers are often regarded as a “Secret Weapon” that helped the Allied Forces win World War II. But today, the traditional Navajo language is in danger of dying out. Recently, Disney and the Navajo Nation Museum teamed up to help keep it alive with a Navajo-language edition of “Finding Nemo.” Channel One News offers a behind-the-scenes look at creating the film and then presents a look at why Indian languages are dying out and the efforts underway to preserve them.
Play this audio recording of the Pledge of Allegiance for students. Do not display any video or images. (Note External link).
oral tradition (noun): Information and traditional stories and songs passed down through the generations by word of mouth rather than in writing.
Heard on the Air: “Our oral tradition really is very dynamic, very descriptive, and they’re great stories.”
Channel One News “Translating Nemo” video
Share this slideshow to provide students with information about efforts to preserve Native American languages:
Eleven-year-old Quinton Kien is among the youngest fluent speakers of the Navajo language — and now he’s the star of a new, Navajo-language translation of the hit animated film, “Finding Nemo.” Making a Navajo edition of “Nemo” is just one small part of an effort to keep Native American languages alive.
To understand this mission, let’s travel back 500 years. Europeans had yet to establish colonies in North America. The continent was home to hundreds of Native American tribes, and each tribe had its own culture, traditions and language. But all that would change when Europeans began arriving in North America in large numbers and establishing permanent settlements here. Click for a larger, more detailed map from the USGS.
By the 1800s the United States had become a country. The U.S. government had confined most tribes to reservations and sent many Indian children to federally funded boarding schools. These schools were established for the purpose of forcing Native American youth to assimilate into European-American culture — which meant speaking English only. Native languages began to die out.
Today, more than 50 percent of Native Americans live in urban areas and speak English in their daily lives. Even on reservations, only a few traditional languages are still in regular use, and most are spoken only by tribal elders. But about 150 to 170 native North American languages have at least one speaker — and efforts are underway to keep those languages alive.
The Enduring Voices Project is a joint effort of the National Geographic Society and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. This project sends linguists around the country and the world to meet, record and film the last speakers of languages on the brink of extinction. In addition, Enduring Voices supports communities in revitalizing their traditional languages and cultures.
And today, the U.S. government works for — instead of against — preserving traditional 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 — named for a linguist and storyteller from the Tewa people of New Mexico — funds language immersion programs.
Student respond to the following writing prompt: Is it important to preserve languages that people no longer use in their daily lives? Why or why not? Support your argument with details from the video, slideshow and your own ideas.
Have students read and analyze this primary source document from the U.S. National Archives, then answer the following questions:
Ask students the following question and have them share their thoughts on an exit ticket: