Language, Culture, Identity. These three are what makes a people, and which are inseparable. Cultures, or native people who have lost their language have also lost their true identity and culture. Those who have returned to their language have found resurgence and revitalization of its people and culture. It is time for Okinawa to be counted and stand up to be proud of the LooChoo identity. However, people of Okinawa, Miyako, Yaeyama, and Aguni must take responsibility and begin a movement that will make history. The responsibility is not only for those living in the Ryukyu Islands, but also for those of us outside who are connected through our blood and ancestry. Indigenous Taiwanese, Welsh, and others have stepped up to revitalize their language and identity. Please read the following article which focuses on the Native American, Maori, and Hawaiian language fight. Let’s put Okinawa on the list of success to revitalizing language and identity.
|Note: This article was first published in the November/December 2005 issue of the National Association for Bilingual Education’s magazine Language Learner on pp. 22-24. Reproduced here by permission. Permission to reprint is hereby given with proper credit to the author and Language Learner as the source of original publication.
Cultural Rights, Language Revival, and Individual Healing
Jon Reyhner,Northern Arizona University
Believing that Kee’s story was more the rule than the exception, Platero emphasized the need to use the Navajo language more in teaching Navajo students.
More recently, the first Navajo woman surgeon described the effects of assimilationist schooling on her family in her 1999 autobiography The Scalpel and the Silver Bear:
Dr. Alvord concludes that “two or three generations of our tribe had been taught to feel shame about our culture, and parents had often not taught their children traditional Navajo beliefs–the very thing that would have shown them how to live, the very thing that could keep them strong.”Language Nests
The Maori of New Zealand are another example of an Indigenous group who were forced to learn in a colonial language with poor results. As with other Indigenous peoples that lacked immunity to European diseases, three-fourths of them died in the first decade of European exploration. Still, they still make up about fifteen percent of New Zealand’s four million people.
Because Maori children, despite speaking English, were doing poorly in school, a preschool movement was started. Putting children in school at an earlier age, along with the spread of radio, television, and movies, accelerated the rate of Maori language loss. To reverse this trend, in 1982 Maori language activists responded with a movement for Maori immersion preschools, known as Te Kohanga Reo (the language nest). Relying on the fact that many elders still spoke Maori, schools were able to operate entirely in the native language. In addition, smoking was banned, they were to be kept very clean, and parents and preschool teachers made the decisions.
By 1998 there were over 600 of these preschools. Wanting their children’s Maori education continued and based on the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi with the British government, activists convinced the New Zealand government to provide first Maori immersion elementary schools. Secondary schools soon followed and finally Maori language university programs, which helped prepare Maori teachers to work in immersion schools.
Native Hawaiians, another Polynesian people, share a similar history with the Maori. Before the late 19th century, when Hawaii was an independent nation, Hawaiian children were taught to read and write in their Hawaiian language in their own schools. But after a coup d’etat overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, American missionaries and businessmen used their newfound power to outlaw the use of the Hawaiian language schools throughout the islands. As a result, by the 1980s, there were few Hawaiian children who could still speak their heritage language in the 1980s. Again, despite speaking only English, these children did not do well in school.
In 1984, observing the success of the Maori, Native Hawaiians started their own language nests (Punano Leo) after parents successfully petitioned the state to change its English-Only law. As in New Zealand, popular support extended the Hawaiian language immersion programs into the public schools. By 1996, there were nine sites serving 175 children; in 2003 there were 12 preschools and 23 public schools with Hawaiian immersion classes.
When I spoke with a parent of a Punano Leo student, he described its curriculum as “a way of life…you have to take it home.” It was bringing back the moral values of the culture and helping mend families. Parent involvement includes parents also studying Hawaiian and volunteering to help clean the school for eight hours a week. Their mission statement reads:
The Hawaiian immersion schools graduated their first high school students in 1999 and now have more than 3,000 students in grades K-12. At the University of Hawai’i at Hilo there are now both undergraduate and graduate programs taught in the Hawaiian language.Healing Possibilities
Northern Cheyenne tribal college president Dr. Richard Littlebear, speaking at an Indigenous language conference in 1997 at Northern Arizona University, described the healing possibilities of revitalizing tribal languages and cultures that is beginning to occur through bilingual education with American Indians and Alaska Natives:
While the treatment of Indigenous people by colonists certainly warrants considerable anger, as Meti historian David T. McNab recalls, “The Elders tell us that it is alright to feel angry about stuff like this [e.g., Massacres of Indians at Sand Creek, Wounded Knee and many other sites] and it is good. However, in the end you must go down to the river, offer a gift of tobacco to the Creator and simply let the anger go…. Otherwise the anger will poison your spirit…”Note: This column is adapted from Jon Reyhner and Jeanne Eder’s American Indian Education: A History (University of Oklahoma Press, 2004) and Jon Reyhner’sEducation and Language Restoration (Chelsea House, 2006).
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