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Forget Ice Water, Take the Indigenous Language Challenge Instead

Screenshots from some of the participants of the Indigenous Language Challenge

Screenshots of some of the participant videos from the Indigenous Language Challenge

Love it or hate it, the online buzz surrounding the Ice Bucket Challenge earlier this year brought more awareness to the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Participants filmed themselves dumping cold water on their heads and challenging another person to do the same or donate money toward research for a cure.

Now a similar concept aimed at awareness for indigenous languages is making its way around the internet. In the Indigenous Language Challenge, the one who accepts the challenge must record a video speaking an indigenous language and tap someone else to do the same. The outcome has been a wide range of people around the world who are producing videos, some for the first time, as a way to proudly share their language online and encouraging more to do the same.

A Facebook group was created to collect links to the videos, where people could share their motivations and connect with others taking part in the Challenge. Many chose to upload their videos directly to Facebook where one can hear North American languages like Kwak'wala and Lakota, as well as the Miriwoong language from Australia, for example.

Efforts to pinpoint the origin of this challenge are ongoing, but according to the group administrator, one of the first participants was James Gensaw, speaking words in the Yurok language.

Who are some of the participants? And why is this activity so important? Colleen Fitzgerald, Director of the Native American Languages Lab at The University of Texas at Arlington, shares her thoughts on her blog post at the Huffington Post:

Many of these videos come from adults who are second language learners. For many years, government-run boarding schools in both the U.S. and Canada took children from Native families. This had an immense effect on Native language acquisition. Children lost priceless years of daily home environments with parents and grandparents communicating to them in their language. Home is where children's language development thrives and grows, and where children acquire the many different speech forms that express the human experience. What gets lost? So much, from the everyday language of instructions, telling jokes, or a recipe, to the ritual language of prayers, ceremonial speeches, or sharing stories of the ancestors.

Here are two examples of participants in this Challenge, who uploaded their videos to YouTube. Jackelyn Seitcher speaking in the Nuu-chah-nulth language shares words after accepting the challenge.

Monica Peters takes the opportunity for the challenge to show the translations of works in Kanienkeha. She then goes onto challenge members of the “Keeping the Kanienkeha Language Strong” Facebook group, community leaders and teachers, and students that are just starting out to speak the language.

There are other videos collected on the blog News From Native California.

Konwennenhon Marion Delaronde also posted her video in the group speaking Kanien'keha (Mohawk). After being challenged by Kehte Deer, she enthusiastically took part and shared her reflections after uploading her video:

Already I think I heard all the languages from different nations. I have to tell you all that all your languages are so beautiful. Always speak your own languages if you can. It’s hopeful. I want to encourage all of you to continue to learn, continue to teach other and to really put your life into it, speaking. I’m so happy that I can speak Mohawk. I’m not fluent, a lot is still missing, but I want to thank everyone who has recorded themselves for this challenge, because you inspired me.

  • damian webster

    The person who got the ball rolling was a man by the name of H’upahu Duta. From there, the ball started rolling. He even offered to do some online Dakota language lessons and has been VERY helpful to aspiring learners. The challenge originally was to use your language in any fashion, without using english, 5-10 seconds. You could do an intro, a story, name off colors, body parts, a song… whatever helped you use your language.

    • Eduardo Avila

      Thanks for sharing, Damian.

  • fdr_democrat

    This sounds like a great thing, but isn’t every language “indigenous” to somewhere? It reminds me of how non-white people are described as “ethnic-looking”.

    • Sara

      I think maybe they are looking at Indigenous in the sense that the language is becoming endangered because another language has stepped in. For example, in Canada and Scotland, English has become a major language which means Native American languages in Canada are disappearing and Gaelic in Scotland is disappearing. So perhaps it should have been phrased as “Endangered Languages”.

      • Chrissie

        Gaelic in Scotland is actually on the rise. The latest census showed an increasing number of young people with the language. Add that to the demand for Gaelic medium education and the number of adult learners, we’re not doing too badly :)
        I like indigenous – highlights the link to the land

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  • Sounds like a great challenge, especially if you’re a kind of person who likes learning languages that you know absolutely nothing about. I might be up for doing it myself once I’ve finished my current language challenge (learning Swedish – more details on my blog!).

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