NORMAN — Students sang, recited, danced, acted and played instruments Tuesday while demonstrating Native American languages during the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History.
The Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair began in 2003 with the objective of providing support to teachers who were working hard at teaching Native American languages, said Mary Linn, Native American Language curator at Sam Noble.
“At the time, there wasn’t any recognition for teachers’ hard work,” Linn said. “We also started the fair for the students. Public speeches are highly valued in a lot of Native American culture. The venue here allows students to see a college campus, and it’s a chance for them to meet their peers and make friends.”
More than 20 languages were represented at the fair this year. The theme was “My Language Goes with Me.” The first day of the fair, featuring pre-K through fifth grades, had 337 participants.
The second day, sixth through 12th grades, had more than 600 participants. Some competition categories were so large that they had to be broken into two at the last minute, Linn said. For instance, the spoken language competition was divided into “prayer” and “non-prayer” categories.
Students competed in spoken language performance, song in native language performance, language masters performance, poetry writing and performance, spoken language with PowerPoint, book and literature, cartoon and comic book, film and video, and language advocacy essay.
Leslie Harper, founder of the Niigaane Immersion Program, served at the fair’s special guest. The Niigaane Immersion Program teaches Ojibwe children in kindergarten their native language at the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School in Minnesota.
Additionally, the Sam Noble Museum currently hosts the traveling exhibit “Ramp It Up!” produced by the Smithsonian Institute and the National Museum of the American Indian. The exhibit features Native skateboarders and Native skateboarding culture.