Celebrating Native Language Revitalization

Posted on November 17, 2011

Jennifer Weston — researcher and assistant producer of We Still Live Here - Âs Nutayuneân — discusses some engaging features on an interactive website about language reclamation projects called Our Mother Tongues. Weston helped produce the site and manages the Cultural Survival's Endangered Languages Program. We Still Live Here - Âs Nutayuneân airs beginning Thursday, November 17 on Independent Lens (check local listings).


After providing nearly three years of research and production assistance for the documentary We Still Live Here - Âs NutayuneânCultural Survival's Endangered Languages Program, Makepeace Productions, Interactive Knowledge, and ITVS have launched a beautiful and inspiring website called Our Mother Tongues, drawing from Cultural Survival’s network of contacts among more than 300 American Indian language programs nationwide.

Twelve Native language communities were selected to share stories and commentary about their local language revitalization efforts, including: the Alutiiq, Cherokee, Crow, Dakota, Euchee, Lakota, Mohawk, Navajo Ojibwe, Salish, Sauk, and Wampanoag. Speakers, teachers, students, and language advocates from across Indian country share their hopes and fears for the future of their native languages, and bring their personal challenges and discoveries to life with enthusiasm and candor. Why are their stories important?  America’s ancient languages are in trouble.  Among hundreds of indigenous languages once spoken in the United States, today only 139 remain.  More than 70 of these are spoken fluently only by the most elderly generations; however, native communities throughout Indian country are comprised of survivors and the fact that any of our languages are still spoken at all is a miracle.  

You can read more about the onslaughts our communities and languages have endured for the past 500 years at our new blog on the site. While you’re there, celebrate our languages and explore the unique insights they have to offer. Send a postcard to your friends and family so they’ll know our languages are still spoken, and begin to understand these parallel challenges of language endangerment and revitalization. Even today, tribal citizens struggle to educate local, state, and federal leadership and education policymakers about why our languages are integral to who we are as native peoples, and why we care so deeply that their embedded value systems and other cultural knowledge is incorporated into school curricula and returned to all social spheres.  

Tribal language programs need more allies and supporters everywhere: in media production and representation, in local school systems and childcare programs, in higher education, in the halls of Congress and in the courts, in museums, in the sciences, etc. The knowledge of planetary biodiversity and climate systems contained within our indigenous languages is invaluable for humanity at large, and there is widespread consensus among scholars that bilingualism and multilingualism in any language conveys cognitive and academic advantages. Far beyond reinforcing self-esteem and identity, speaking more than one language literally makes students smarter across subject areas including math and the sciences by activating and creating new neural pathways, and keeping brains processing more than one worldview. 

Bilingualism and multilingualism engender and reinforce cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect — increasingly valuable skills in a globalized world. Our Endangered Languages Program at Cultural Survival has worked for the past three years with a half-dozen Native American language programs, and a wide range of national inter-tribal organizations both to raise funds for grassroots work training new generations of speakers, and to boost the profile of Native languages locally, nationally, and internationally. 

Language loss is a global phenomena, with many scholars and linguists predicting that as many as 90 percent of the world’s languages could vanish by the end of the 21st century. Fortunately, indigenous peoples worldwide are rising to meet these challenges as we always have.  Now we are equipped with technology to link us together across the miles, and with a United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which enshrines our language and myriad other human rights. OurMotherTongues.org is your window into Indian country’s efforts to save our languages, and by incorporating Cultural Survival’s global focus on indigenous peoples’ rights to our lands, languages, and cultures, the site will only grow richer in time. Explore and enjoy!  


From our blog

  1. ITVS Welcomes Brandii Rice as Head of Business and Legal Affairs

    August 10, 2023

    ITVS is pleased to welcome Brandii Rice as our new Head of Business and Legal Affairs. In her role Rice will oversee business and legal affairs across the ITVS brand portfolio. In addition, she will guide licensing and business strategies to support ITVS’ content development, production, distribution and audience development goals. She will join ITVS

  2. Carrie Lozano Will Lead ITVS as President & CEO, Succeeding Sally Jo Fifer

    June 7, 2023

    Carrie Lozano joins ITVS from the Sundance Institute, where she served as director of Documentary Film and Artist Programs, supporting boundary-breaking filmmakers across the globe. At ITVS, she will continue to protect independent artists’ voices, editorial control and copyright while elevating nonfiction storytelling as an essential strategy

  3. Lisa Tawil Joins the International Board of INPUT

    June 1, 2023

    Discover how Lisa Tawil's appointment to the International Board of INPUT strengthens worldwide collaboration in public media.