By Tilden Bird
The third annual Summer Language Institute will be held at the Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College from June 27-July 8. The institute came about through a partnership between the MHA Nation and the Language Conservancy, and is focused on teaching the languages of the Three Affiliated Tribes.
Students were allowed to choose from courses teaching Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa. Those who took the classes were able to receive college credit through the Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College.
“Basically our whole purpose for this whole institute is to teach the phonology, the sounds of the language, and also how to teach, teaching methods for teaching the languages,” stated Bernadine Young Bird, Language Coordinator. “We have three languages that we deal with: the Nueta, which is the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish, which is also called Arikara.”
“We want to make sure we teach all three of them. All three are endangered. About a year ago in April our tribe did declare a state of emergency,” continued Young Bird. “Our history is very unique. There have been many reasons why there is a loss of our language.”
Young Bird said that various historical tragedies, including smallpox, led to the loss of traditional languages.
The Summer Institute registered nearly 50 people for the language classes, however registration is open until the last day of classes.
“It’s our biggest institute,” stated Wil Meya, executive director of the Language Conservancy. “It’s also the third year of the MHA Summer Institute. It’s almost double the numbers we had last year. So its growing every year and it’s really exciting to feel the energy here, the positivity, the enthusiasm, and the excitement for the language. And every year we expect that to grow more and more.”
“In the similar institutes that we run every year there’s this growth and there’s this excitement and it eventually builds a movement of the language,” Meya said. “Everyone here is going to be hooked into the language and become an activist for promoting the language. And that’s kind of what’s happening here. It’s the beginning stages of that activist movement for people recapturing their language.”
Some students were learning their traditional language in a classroom setting, however it was certainly not their first experience with it.
“I’ve heard [the language] from my mom and my dad and grandma, being around them,” said Tyler Charging, Hidatsa student. “It’s a good experience, learning the beginnings of Hidatsa. I’m enjoying it a lot.”
While the institute last two weeks, registration is also open for students who may only be able to attend one or two days.
“We are the Nueta, Hidatsa, and Sahnish,” said Young Bird. “And in order for us to maintain that identity we have to have that knowledge.”