An interesting discussion by Ryan Red Corn about efforts to revive the Osage language:
No longer than a short while after the program got up and running did the tribe watch its last first language Osage speaker pass away, Lucille Roubedeaux.
As Uncle Mogre explained, “This is the last train out. If we can’t get it done this time around, then that’s it. There is no more after this. That’s it.” Everyone who ever heard those words fully understood the gravity of the situation, and decided that they did not want the language dying on their watch, including myself. [...]
With the introduction of the language department, dedicated students and teachers started to create new speakers for the first time in only God knows how many years. It’s quite literally been close to 200 years since the last time the number of Osage speakers INCREASED. It’s difficult to take into account what this scrappy bunch of Osages has done until you put it into perspective. The Vatican even called to verify the miracle (Ok I made that last part up).
As you can imagine, opinions (and actions) about the importantance of language revitalization efforts vary:
Not long after bearing witness to this feat, I found myself at an Indigenous language conference in Stroud, Oklahoma. Story after story, I heard language department directors talk about battling their respective tribal governments over their efforts to preserve their respective community’s languages. You should have seen the looks on their faces as I explained in Osage country we had created a situation where it was political suicide to go AGAINST the language. I proudly boasted the triumphs of Uncle Mogre and his crew to a bunch of drop jawed faces. Of course some of the elders in the room didn’t believe me simply because they know Osages are always bragging and making stuff up that isn’t true to make themselves sound real keen. I’ll admit I might have embellished a little…..but not much. Honest. We just want to put our best foot forward. Be the best we can. It’s a pretty simple yet good philosophy to live by.
My tales of Uncle Mogre’s language exploits went far and wide, causing other programs to come check it out for themselves. They came to see how a program with no first language speakers, being led by a man with no formal training in education or linguistics, sufficiently funded by his tribal government had attained such a feat.
Fast forward to January, 2010. The Osage Nation Government passes a budget bill that cuts $120,000.00 with six line items receiving $1 in their budgets. Ouch… Meat Pie sale anyone?
Last weekend right off the heels of the budget cuts, about fifteen Osages met, on their own dollar, at the White Hair Museum between Fairfax and Hominy. They met for the language program’s monthly language immersion event.; usually meeting once a month on a Sunday at various places like museums or the zoo etc. I have been to a few of these events and always enjoy myself.
We were greeted by Stephanie Rapp in the entrance where we looked at ribbonwork, old pictures, videos and books. I was accompanied by my freshly anointed pregnant wife Electa. We sat around talking as much Osage as we could for the better part of the afternoon.
I am hoping this program remains well supported by its government. I want those waterboys at the end of the bench to have what I have enjoyed from this program over these last years. And most importantly I want the program to make possible my dream of creating the first, first language speaker our family has had since my grandpa spoke as a young boy. An audacious braggadocios improbable feat I know. But then again I’m Osage I can’t help but do it up right. WA.SHKA^ as they say, do the best you can. I’m about to be a dad. I got to start thinking about these types of things.
You see…regardless of whether or not those in the Osage Nation Congress who pushed for these cuts and then voted this budget to the Chief’s desk to be signed realize it or not, Osages are going to convene. On their own dollars if necessary, and simply do one thing. Talk. About what isn’t the point. The point is, they will talk.
Some useful background information is here.
[Hat tip to Carrie Shanafelt.]