The Norman Transcript

April 9, 2014

Native American languages aren’t forgotten

By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript

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.

In coordination with that exhibit, the language fair included the special artwork category, Language in Skateboard Art. Students designed their own skateboard decks that incorporated Native language.

Over the years, the language fair has added more categories as linguistic domains expand and style of presentations and conversation has changed.

“In the beginning, speeches were formal and rigidly recited,” Linn said. “Now students are doing skits and the language is more conversational.”

The winners of the ninth through 12th large group spoken language category from Broken Bow High School embraced a more relaxed, modern skit theme to demonstrate their language.

Alyssa Baker, A’ An Parra, Nikki Amos, Dallas Bohannan, Justin Byington, Brian Gentry and Darrell Batiest acted as Thunder basketball game fans and the mascot Rumble in their performance “Ready to Rumble.”

“They used greetings, discussed food and the basketball players to demonstrate the language,” said Dennis Parra, Broken Bow High School teacher. “And at the end of the skit, Rumble is asked if he wants to play basketball, but he says ‘no’ and pulls out to stickball sticks and says he wants to play stickball. This incorporates traditional culture into our modern skit.”

Parra and his wife, Faith Parra, teach students both Choctaw 1 and 2. Parra said the students started practicing before spring break.

“This day gives them experience with the language and they get to meet other kids across the state who also use native languages.”

Batiest, who portrayed Rumble, said it was the team’s third year in a row to win their category.

“We grew up knowing bits and pieces, but none of use were fluent in Choctaw,” Batiest said. “We practiced at least three times a week.”

Sponsors of the language fair included the Sam Noble museum, The Cyril Fund, Boeing, Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Sac and Fox Nation, Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, OU Student Life, OU Department of Anthropology, OU Department of Native American Studies, Gamma Delta Pi American Indian Sorority and University Silkscreen.

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Katherine Parker



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