This week, Riverton will host a conference on how to save the native languages of indigenous peoples across the globe. It’s the first time in its 22 year history that the “Stabilizing Indigenous Languages” symposium has been held in Wyoming. Last year it took place in Hawaii.
Linguist Andrew Cowell from the University of Colorado says indigenous speakers are expected to come from all over the world to discuss new strategies for rescuing dying languages.
“There are people coming in from Canada as well as around the U.S. and internationally,” Cowell says. “There are people coming from New Zealand, Mauri speakers. And also from Taiwan, for example. And they’re sharing ideas, what works, what doesn’t work.”
Cowell is the co-author of Arapaho Stories, Songs and Prayers: A Bilingual Anthology, along with native speakers William J. C’Hair and Alonzo Moss Sr.. He says the Arapaho language is now mainly spoken fluently only by elders 65 years and older, and the challenge now is to make it relevant and useful to younger generations.
Cowell says dying native languages aren’t just a problem for native peoples, either.
“People have a tendency to think of Native American languages as belonging to the tribes and just a concern of the tribe and not really a concern of everybody else,” he says. “I personally have always felt that Native American languages are truly a part of our broader cultural heritage as Americans. The words we use in English for things like moose and chipmunk and tobacco, these kind of words come from Native American languages.”
The symposium started Thursday, June 4 and runs through Saturday, June 6 at the Wind River Casino in Riverton.