Keeping languages alive: A different kind of conservation
How Arizona State University's Center for Indian Education is working with Southwest tribes to document and revitalize the language and culture of indigenous people.
By Pete Zrioka
April 6, 2012
To prevent Native American languages from dying out, Arizona State University’s Center for Indian Education (CIE) is working with Southwest tribes to document and revitalize the languages of indigenous people. One partnership is with the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe, who reside along the Colorado River, straddling the tri-state area of Needles, Calif., Mohave Valley, Ariz., and Laughlin, Nev.
Natalie Diaz, coordinator of the Fort Mojave Language Recovery Program, has been recording and transcribing the Mojave language for three years. In 2009, she contacted the CIE, which sponsored a Mojave language summit at ASU. This led to a collaborative CIE-Fort Mojave National Science Foundation grant to aid in the language recovery efforts.
“Our main focus right now, because we have so few speakers, is documentation,” says Diaz. “We’re trying our best to get as much as we can documented with audio and visual recordings.”
Part of the program is dedicated to retaining the Mojave bird songs, which are traditionally songs of celebration. The songs are also part of a larger oral tradition that communicates values and carry lessons of cultural importance to Mojave people, says Teresa McCarty, co-director of the CIE.
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