Language Planning and Cultural Continuance in Native America
In the epigraph above, Lakota anthropologist, educator, and language rights activist Beatrice Medicine speaks to the persistence of diverse Native American communities despite centuries of genocidal policies intended to eradicate those communities. It is within the “sociolinguistic nexus” of Native communities, Medicine adds, that “[n]ative culture flourishes and exists despite generations of pressure to change” (2001, pp. 51-52). This chapter explores that sociolinguistic nexus, historically and today, drawing on theory and practice in the fields of linguistic and educational anthropology, Indigenous studies, and critical applied linguistics (Pennycook, 2001; Tollefson, 2002). From this interdisciplinary perspective, Indigenous efforts to retain “viable languages” are not merely or even primarily a linguistic issue, but are part of a larger fight for what Acoma poet and literary scholar Simon Ortiz (2002) calls “continuance” – a determined resistance and collective will to sustain vital cultural communities. For more than three centuries, schools and their medium-of-instruction policies have been the battleground in this struggle, and Native children, families, and communities have been on the front line. This chapter presents a critical analysis of these processes, focusing on language planning and policy (LPP) as a driver of both cultural continuance and social change. I begin with a discussion of the demolinguistic and sociohistorical context for contemporary Native American LPP efforts, emphasizing tribal sovereignty and self-determination as the legal-political foundation for those efforts. I illustrate
the self-determination movement simultaneously with Ortiz’s notion of continuance, using the example of Indigenous community-controlled schools. This is followed by a discussion of a range of contemporary Native American LPP initiatives. One largely unexamined but critically important group of stakeholders in all of this work is youth, and in the next section I explore recent Indigenous youth language research. How do youth negotiate local and societal discourses that simultaneously position their heritage language as essential to an “authentic” Indigenous identity and as lacking mobility within global sociolinguistic “scales” (Blommaert, 2010)? What influences their language choices? Finally, I consider the praxis dimensions of this work and its implications for “inviting youth into” (McCarty & Wyman, 2009, p. 286) language planning aimed at self-determination and cultural continuance. Throughout the analysis, I draw upon the theoretical framework of the New Language Policy Studies – a critical-theoretical approach influenced by the field of anthropology, in which policy is viewed “not as disembodied text but as a situated sociocultural process” (McCarty, Collins, & Hopson, 2011, p. 335). Within this framework, language policy is conceptualized as both covert and overt, de facto and de jure: “the complex of practices, ideologies, attitudes, and formal and informal mechanisms that influence people’s language choices in profound and pervasive everyday ways” (McCarty, 2011, p. xii). This is not to dismiss the gravity of official, formal policy – indeed, it looms large in the Native American case – but to analyze those policy processes in their intermeshed local, national, and global contexts. What Hymes (1980) called ethnographic monitoring is a key aspect of this framework, “not as an appendage to conventional analyses of formal policy-as-text, but as the core epistemological, theoretical, and value position from which language policy is understood” (McCarty, Collins, & Hopson, 2011, p. 336). In keeping with Hymes’s activist stance, critical ethnography is committed to social justice and “the people for and with whom the ethnographic work [is] done” (Gilmore, cited in Hornberger, 2002, p. 2). The objective of the New Language Policy Studies is to conceptualize LPP in new ways, and thereby to reimagine the possibilities for linguistic diversity and educational equity.