Methodist Church

Native American urges steps to save languages

ANADARKO (Oklahoma) – Native American languages have been under “extreme and direct attack” for generations and many are in danger of extinction, said the director of a project working to save the Euchee language.

Mr Richard Grounds, Director of the Euchee (Yu-chee) Language Project in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, works with the five remaining fluent Euchee speakers left in the United States. His daughter, Renee, a board member of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, has dedicated her life to helping him keep the language alive.

Speaking in Euchee, Renee introduced her father to members of the commission at Ware Chapel United Methodist Church before his presentation on the project.

Commission members were taking a day during their Oct 3-7 board meeting in Oklahoma City to visit Kiowa Native American United Methodist churches and to hear from Native American United Methodists.

Ms Caroline Botone and Mr Henry Joseph Willis greeted the group in their native languages of Kiowa and Choctaw.

“This is really a pretty special event,” Mr Grounds said. “We are hearing from our elders at this meeting in their own languages. This is what their mother spoke to them, and that’s why they speak it to you.”

He said the World War II generation still speaks their native languages, and most
of the people in that generation are slowly dying, taking the languages with them.

“In this state where 25 indigenous languages are still spoken, only four of those are being learned by children; all the rest are only spoken by elders,” he said. “The words you heard from my daughter, Renee, speaking the language of my grandmother, are extremely unusual.”

The commission funded Mr Grounds’ Euchee project from 2000-2004 through the Minority Group Self-Determination Fund. The fund was established by The United Methodist Church to empower racial and ethnic minority people within and outside the church.

The tradition of passing down native languages was “crushed through a very ugly, sorted, intentional process” that took young people out of the tribes and put them in boarding schools where they were forced to speak English.

“I would guess billions of dollars were spent destroying our languages, breaking down our ceremonial ways, assaulting our traditions,” he said.

Globally, Mr Grounds said, the next 20 years is likely to see the loss of half of the world’s languages and, in the United States, about 70 per cent of indigenous languages are projected to die out.

“This is the core, the heart, of who our peoples are. This is the diversity, the alternative that is unique about people.

It is all coded in those languages.” – United Methodist News Service.

Kathy L. Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in
Nashville, Tennessee