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2017 June 13 - 03:08 pm

Tribal Leaders Striving To Save Dying Language

College’s First Language Institute Draws 70 Participants

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Omaha Tribe leaders and language instructors are gaining optimism after worrying about the uncertain future of their native language.

The Omaha World-Herald (http://bit.ly/2qwcq97 ) reports that more than 70 people attended a five-day Umonhon course at the Nebraska Indian Community College’s inaugural Summer Language Institute last week in Macy, a city within the Omaha Reservation. Organizers said attendance was double what they expected.

“I think that our people have been wanting to gather together to discuss, learn and practice speaking Umonhon,” said Vida Stabler, program director of the Umonhon Language and Culture Center, one of the organizers of the institute. “I think we have seen our elders pass on, and with their passing, we see our language fluency dropping.”

The institute was funded by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Wil Meya is the executive director of the Language Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated on revitalizing indigenous languages. Meya said only about 150 of the 7,000 Omaha Tribe members can understand or speak parts of Umonhon. The conservancy lists the number of fluent speakers at less than 30.

Umonhon teacher Dwight Howe said today’s indigenous kids face a steeper challenge to learn the language because decades of forced assimilation. Howe, nearing 60, said he’s able to understand words and phrases but unable to speak fluently.

Lessons at the institute included phonology — the “sounds” of a language — conversation exercises and techniques for teaching Umonhon to others. The elders were paired with new learners to practice conversation and have any mispronunciations corrected.

Stabler said the long-term goal is to integrate the language into everyday lives of the Omaha people. She said that the more people who listen and speak it, the more likely it is to survive the times.

Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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