chapter  9
26 Pages

Culture and Language Matters: Defining, Implementing, and Evaluating

The crisis ofNative American languages can be summarized as folIows: unless current trends are reversed, and soon, the number of extinctions seems certain to increase. Numerous tongues-perhaps one-third of the total-are on the verge of disappearing along with their last e1derly speakers. Many others are not far behind. And even among the most vigorous 10 percent, their hold upon the young is rapidly weakening. In short, Native American languages are becoming endangered species. (Crawford, 1995, p. 21)

Language and culture identify a cohesive set of worldviews, such as, values, concepts, and beliefs, that are essential to the life of human beings. Language, through its many texts, embraces the human agency of competencies and potentialities as it embodies the meaning, knowledge, and intellect of a community of people. Indeed, their language forms the actions of people, illumina ted in their cultural practices, such as, chants, dances, rituals, beadwork, basket weaving, pottery, and farming. Because language and cul-

ture are the lifeblood of a people, they must be visible; otherwise, they will die. It is, therefore, the responsibility of native institutions of education and the communities they serve to create a safe place for native languages and cultures to survive and thrive (see also Crawford, 1995; Yazzie, 1999). Tribal colleges have taken up this daunting charge, working with their communities not only to validate both their native knowledge and worldviews through language and culture, but also to integrate contemporary knowledge and worldviews into the leaming experience. It is our purpose in this chapter to discuss the work around language and culture, present an overview of the work across tribal colleges, and in light of multiple challenges provide ideas for next steps.