By Tilden Bird
The third annual MHA Summer Institute will be held at the Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in New Town from June 27 through July 8. The Institute is a chance for teachers and students to come together and learn and share methods for teaching and learning second languages, which include Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. Registration is free for all who care to attend.
Behind this educational event is the NHS College, the MHA Language Project, and the Language Conservancy.
The Language Conservancy is a non-profit organization formed in 2005 in response to dying languages across Indian Country. The Language Conservancy works with tribes to provide infrastructure and resources for endangered languages. While some communities and tribes may not know where to begin in saving their languages, the Language Conservancy provides tools and methods to help.
Those within the Language Conservancy believe that some thoughts are only possible within a certain language, that things are lost in translation. They believe that more than a language is lost when one stops speaking it.
“Languages are fundamental and irreplaceable facets of a people’s culture and identity; they encompass stories, songs, traditions, jokes, ways of being,” said Wilhelm Meya, Director of the Language Conservancy. “A language stands for a whole culture, and diversity in language is just as important as diversity in the animal kingdom, because languages provide unique viewpoints. It is not only words that are lost when a language disappears, but an entire perception of the world.”
The Language Conservancy is currently working in a support roll with the languages of the Three Affiliated Tribes and the MHA Language Project. Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara are being taught with old fashioned methods and twenty first century technology.
“The project’s goal is to create local capacity and encouragement for MHA Languages,”
said Meya of the MHA Language Project. “The Project is spearheaded by the NHS Native American Studies Department and the MHA Education Department. TLC is working in partnership with these departments to train teachers and to encourage young people to take ownership of the language, to become linguists and language activists. As a support organization, we only provide tools and methods that will help pass the torch on to young people in the Fort Berthold community.”
All three Languages are taught through the Nueata Hidatsa Sahnish College in New Town. Students are provided with workbooks and compact discs to assist them through their lessons and pronunciation.
“Ultimately, our goal is to help MHA Nation bring back its languages and restore their use in the daily lives of the community,” said Meya.
A self-motivated student can also learn online at arikara.org, mandanlanguage.org, and hidatsa.org. On these websites one can hear the alphabet of each of the three languages, as well as view and search through a translation dictionary, use interactive flashcards, and type in each of the three languages.
The Language Conservancy is also helping with other languages including Crow, Dakota, Lakota, and Maskoke. They offer many of the same online learning tools as with the MHA languages.
“A language is stabilized when there is a growing population of new speakers,” said Meya. “Importantly, this number has to be larger than the number of speakers being lost each year. A stable language also has a bigger percentage of younger speakers than older speakers in its total tribal population.”
Anyone and everyone is encouraged to become involved with the Language Conservancy through learning a second language, teaching a language, and by attending the MHA Summer Institute.
“The NHS Native American Studies Department organizes an annual MHA language institute in the summer,” Meya stated. “This year is exciting in particular because the institute will be offering an intensive beginner’s course for Hidatsa, so anyone and everyone who wants to learn the language is encouraged to attend. The institute and all materials for the languages are free and can be picked up at the Northern Lights Building.”
More can be learned about the MHA Summer Institute at mhasi.com.