Around the world, experts estimate that a language dies every two weeks, and with it, unique modes of communication, cultural knowledge and religious practices. In the United States, as most tribal nations struggle with language extinction and dormancy as a result of federal assimilation policies, University of Colorado law and linguistics researchers are working with indigenous leaders to identify best practices in language revitalization and propose law and policy reforms.
The 54th Algonquian Conference: Launching the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, organized by the Center for Native American and Indigenous Studies (CNAIS) and the University of Colorado School of Law with the support of an innovative Bureau seed grant of Research and Innovation (RIO) and the Department of Linguistics, will be held from Thursday, October 20 to Sunday, October 23 at the Faculty of Law. Speakers from the United Nations, United States and Canada will address both the causes of language loss and the possibilities for revitalization.
“The United Nations has declared International Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032 to address the dire situation of indigenous languages around the world and promote a multilingual future where all peoples are free to speak and communicate in their mother tongue,” said Aleksei Tsykarev, Vice President of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. A long-time language activist and human rights expert, Tsykarev will deliver the keynote address at the conference on Thursday, October 20 at 5 p.m.
For Native American tribes in the United States, addressing language loss is a pressing issue. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, for example, reported only 2,000 first-language speakers out of a population of over 400,000 tribal members. These figures are not accidental. As the federal government Investigation report 2022 revealed, the United States operated “boarding schools” for more than 100 years to “assimilate” indigenous children by requiring them to learn English, Christianity, and manual labor. Children who spoke their native languages were punished, often severely, and many died in these institutions. The intergenerational transmission of indigenous languages has almost ceased and indigenous peoples have lost their traditional means of communication and speech, as well as religious, cultural, scientific, political and family practices based on concepts and worldviews expressed in the languages. indigenous.
“Language rights are human rights,” said Council Tree Professor of Law and director of the American Indian Law Program Kristen Charpentier. “Governments, including the United States, have an obligation to address past oppression and support Indigenous communities in language revitalization. Carpenter is co-chairing the conference with Professor Andy Cowell and Professor Alexis Palmer from the Department of Linguistics.
The conference will conclude with a special issue of the University of Colorado’s Environmental Law Journal titled Visions for the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, including Indigenous leaders’ hopes and expectations for the Decade, as well as current research on computational linguistics and self-determination in language education.