Cultural preservation for indigenous people has been an ongoing fight for many years. For a culture to be preserved, it’s important to maintain language, tradition and identity. Maintaining these pieces in a world as homogenous and fast-paced as the world today takes effort and commitment. For Native American tribes, it isn’t only a matter of preservation, but of reclaiming what’s been buried beneath the oppression and attempts at cultural genocide they’ve faced throughout American history.
Language has been at the forefront of that fight. Ensuring that the various tribal languages continue to have fluent speakers is key to survival. Tribes have encouraged the study of tribal languages through a variety of efforts.
The Navajo Nation uses technology and popular culture to encourage young members to learn to speak it fluently. Videos and apps have been created so even toddlers can learn the language. Movies are dubbed in Navajo so children will hear and learn while they’re young.
The Cherokee have taken things a step further, adding new words to their language to describe modern items such as balloons. This way they don’t have to resort to Anglicized words to describe them. Younger Cherokees have developed emoticons in the Cherokee language for use on various social media platforms. The Lakota are using websites to teach correct pronunciation of their Native tongue, along with CDs and language games such as flashcards.
To reclaim their traditional identity, many of the Pueblo tribes have begun using their Native names once more, leaving behind the identities put on them by the Spanish years ago. Known for years as the Pueblo of San Juan, the tribe returned to its Tewa name of Okay Owingeh in 2005. Though tribal members never forgot who they are, the world now understands that this is their true name. The Pueblo of Santo Domingo is making the change as well, now using their true name of Kewa Pueblo.
Passing on tradition is another battle being fought against the lure of a world that lives on change. Jewelers such as the artists of the Tskies Co-Op work to pass on the techniques and skills they were taught for making handcrafted jewelry. Others work to incorporate traditional images and designs into areas such as fashion and entertainment so that young tribal members can see themselves in the world around them.
It’s a sign of the resilience of Native culture that these efforts to preserve the language, traditions and identities of the people are seeing a resurgence of both pride in and knowledge of who they are as a community. Through these changes they can retain a sense of who they are in the world and pass that knowledge along to the next generation.