One of the issues that confronts those involved with Native American language revitalization is how to teach a language whose speakers are often few and far between and potential students are often spread out over a large area. In Michigan there are less than 50 speakers of Anishinaabemowin, or the Ojibwe language. While many reservation and urban communities are engaged in language revitalization, the number of people it reaches is limited, and the small number of fluent speakers and language resources only compounds the problem. One way to solve this is through digital media and web based learning. However, Native urban and reservation communities have lagged behind other communities in terms of their access to the technology and infrastructure that could make this possible.
“American Indians and Alaska Natives typically live in more rural and isolated locations of the United States, areas that generally have waited longer for internet broadband access. Many tribal lands still have only very limited connectivity.
As a result, many Native people have moved straight to mobile internet, accessing digital content through cellphones that do not require broadband connection. In that sense, what has occurred in tribal lands in the United States mirrors the practice in other parts of world where countries have largely skipped over the broadband era and jumped straight to mobile.”
This trend has made it possible for many Native communities to access and use social media for a variety of purposes. Social media plays an important role in maintaining connections with family members and to plan social events. It has also been the foundation grassroots social movements and protests, particularly Idle No More,(http://www.idlenomore.ca/) , whose goal is to increase awareness of the issues facing Native Nations and to uphold Native sovereignty by protesting and resisting projects like the Canadian Tar Sands and the XL pipeline that threatening the land and water. Facebook and Twitter are a large part of this movement as they are easily accessible for Native people particularly in rural areas.
Some of the fluent speakers I work with use social media as a way to teach the language. One in particular post sayings in the language for people to learn and uses the language to describe pictures he posts and he answers questions people have about the language or offers translations. Facebook then is helpful for connecting fluent speakers to language learners on a basic level, but it does not offer a way to bring the language into peoples lives in a way that could facilitate language learning or language immersion.
One of my current projects is to create an online Anishinaabe language course that can expand the opportunities people have to learn the language, particularly in urban areas. However even in urban areas, the majority of Native people rely on mobile internet to access the digital world. One of the issues then becomes how do you create an online language program that is easily accessible while at the same time delivers a meaningful and accurate way to learn the language. The larger question though is can Anishinaabemowin or any other Native language for that manner break into the realms of social media and a digital world dominated by English?
I don’t have an answer for this yet but it is one of the many issues I have to contend with as I continue to examine as I look at how to incorporate language learning and preservation into Cultural Heritage Informatics.
–Naangodinong kwii bekaayaa wii noondaagoyin. Sometimes you have to be quiet to be heard.
This sounds like a great project. It’s so important to be able to express yourself in multiple languages, particularly those that share your own distinctive cultural roots!