Reclaiming a culture: How Indiana University is helping an indigenous community restore its endangered language

More than 2,000 hours of audio and video field recordings of vocabulary, interviews and storytelling from indigenous people reside in the collection of the American Indian Studies Research Institute at Indiana University. Now, some of these recordings are being put to use to help one indigenous community reclaim its endangered language and culture.

The institute recently received funding to continue work with the Assiniboine people of the Northern Great Plains of North America to strengthen their language, Nakoda, by creating instructional materials, dictionaries and storybooks for use in reservation schools and households. Many of these materials pull from stories recorded by IU faculty in the 1970s and 1980s.

Founded in 1985 by IU anthropology professors Raymond DeMallie and Douglas Parks, the American Indian Studies Research Institute has a long history of interdisciplinary research projects that attempt to fully understand and describe the language, culture or history of the native people of the Americas. In 2007, the institute launched a partnership with the Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, to create the first comprehensive Lakota language curriculum for K-12 schools.

The success of these materials, coupled with decades of relationship-building and contact with the university, inspired leaders in the Assiniboine community to approach the institute about working together to create similar instructional materials for Nakoda. They hope that using the narratives told by tribe elders as the basis for the instructional materials will allow learners to not only reclaim the language but to more fully understand the Assiniboine worldview.

Read more: Indiana University

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