Chapter 5 in Humanizing Research, “Activist Ethnography With Indigenous Youth: Lessons From Humanizing Research on Language and Education” by Teresa L. McCarty, Leisy T. Wyman and Sheilah Nicholas, resonated with me. Indigenous languages are quickly fading. I see it every day in our youth. Not all youth have the desire like Jonathan and Justin to learn their Native languages. Their identity is reflected through their knowledge of their history and their language. I have had a Jonathan and a Justin, but they are few and far between.
I have talked extensively with my students about learning the culture and the language. All of them are proud to be Tohono O’odham. But, very few participate in traditional activities. They have all taken culture classes in elementary, middle and high school. In fact, Tohono O’odham History and Native American Studies are required courses for graduation. In addition, the high school offers Tohono O’odham language classes. However, the access to these courses is limited in all grade levels. I think a large part of this is due to the small number of culture and language teachers that we have in the district. At the very same time, I wonder if we would have more teachers if the district wanted more teachers. But, that’s a whole other story.
In 2012, the State Board of Education adopted the Native American Language Certification Policy R7-2-614J, which was developed by the Arizona Department of Education and Arizona’s tribal nations (www.azed.gov). This policy allows for traditional language speakers to obtain teaching certification through a non-traditional route. Tribal nations are responsible for developing their own assessments for measuring proficiency. And, with a passing score on the assessment, a fingerprint clearance card and an application fee, Native speakers are eligible for the Native Language Teacher Certificate (www.azed.gov).
I know that some of the culture teachers that we have had have utilized this alternative teaching certification. I believe that this has been extremely beneficial to our district, and, more importantly, our students. Like McCarty, Wyman and Nicholas (2014) learned from their studies, students are disengaging in their Native languages at a rapid rate and very few are committed to learning their language. I have experienced this with the youth that I work with. While many know some vocabulary, stringing together sentences seems like a task not worth attempting.
For the last 3 years, I have had a young woman, now 18, who knows O’odham relatively well and is interested in learning the language. But, it is something that she keeps very close to herself. She will not speak it in front of her peers. When I ask if anyone knows how to say such and such in O’odham, I will glance at her. If her classmates are around, she will just shrug and say that she does not know like many of my students. In private, she will tell me what I asked for earlier. I have asked her several times about this and she said that she does not want to get made fun of for speaking the language. I have even encouraged her to take the language courses offered, but she refuses because she knows she will have to speak it in front of other students. She said that she only speaks it at home with her grandpa, which seems to be the trend across Native cultures, according to McCarty, Wyman and Nicholas (2014).
How can we change this? I honestly have no idea. I wish I knew. I wish our youth would see the value in learning our language and culture. But, I also understand their perspective. Who else values their language besides other O’odham? Facebook is not in O’odham. Television programs and movies are not in O’odham. Google does not translate English to O’odham. And, their education is not offered in O’odham. I know parents/guardians who do not know O’odham either, therefore, they are unable teach their children. So, whose responsibility is it to teach our youth their language before it disappears forever?
McCarty, T. L., Wyman, L. T., & S. Nicholas (2014). Activist ethnography with Indigenous youth: Lessons from humanizing research on language and education. In D. Paris & M. T. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities (pp. 81-103). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Silva, L. (2012, Aug. 28). Native American language teacher certification. Retrieved from http://www.azed.gov/educator-certification/2012/08/28/native-am-lang-cert/