OU Native American language professors, speakers and students participated in a Thursday panel to discuss the importance of the revitalization and learning of Native American languages.
The event was featured as part of an Indigenous People’s Day lineup on campus. Antonia Belindo, American Indian Programs & Services coordinator led the panel by asking participants several questions about the purpose and importance of the variety of the four Native American languages taught at OU.
Belindo spoke on how unique different Native American languages and cultures are. She said some students often take Native American language courses for an easy A.
“The reason I bring that up is because that's a common theme and (“easy A” is) a common phrase that's thrown around, especially with students during the time of enrollment — it's even (said) by advisers,” Belindo said. “It's unfortunate to say that (because) do you say that about German? Do you say that about Spanish? Do you say that about any other European westernized language? I don't think so.”
NAS professor Brian Burkhart, Choctaw instructor Freddie Lewis and Kiowa instructor Dane Poolaw all said the classes they teach aren’t simple, especially if students are willing to truly learn the language. Lewis said the classes often begin with the basics, but as the class progresses, the amount learned is equal to any other language class.
“I think if you asked students now, I don't think they’d admit it’s easy anymore ... ” Lewis said. “I'm not trying to be hard, I'm just trying to get more out of it than what used to be done.”
Belindo said that generalizing Native American studies and language into one category of things can be harmful to the individuality of Native American culture and tradition. This is why she encourages students to keep in mind the way they look at Native American language and classes.
During the panel, participants also discussed the importance of language revitalization to many Native American communities. According to Belindo, keeping a language alive is keeping an entire culture alive.
“I think of revitalization or speaking your language or even attempting to speak your language — even those who may or may not identify as Native and they are speaking a language in a way — I find that as a form of activism and reclamation of indigenous identities in tribes that are here across the U.S. and Canada and Mexico and all these arbitrary borders that exist,” Belindo said.
Delores Harragarra, a Kiowa elder and mentor at the Kiowa Language and Culture Revitalization Program, graduated from OU in 1951. During the panel, she said she loved to see the progress the Native American Studies program has made and the many different Native American classes and languages now being taught at OU.
“I left and went off to school and I've never heard it anymore, it's beautiful to hear,” Harragarra said. “I'm grateful, very grateful for the technology, grateful to hear Kiowa people speak.”