Federal Reserve Touts Importance of Native American Language Immersion Programs

The Federal Reserve Bank just published an article discussing the importance of the Dakota and Ojibwe language revitalization work going on in our community and around the country.

The article highlights the work at Wicoie Nandagikendan, a Dakota and Ojibwe early childhood language immersion program in Minneapolis. The story ran Friday in the Federal Reserve’s publication “Community Dividend,” written by economist Rob Grunewald. The headline reads: “Early childhood Native language immersion develops minds, revitalizes cultures: Learning their indigenous languages from a very young age may prepare Native American children for success in school and life, with benefits spilling over to their families and communities.”

This article is consistent with Federal Reserve research that shows the powerful return on investment from early childhood education programs. This new article that focuses on Native American early childhood language immersion programs will come as no surprise to those working in the field. Yet it is nice to have the weight of the Federal Reserve validate the program to the broader community — and bolster  its funding requests.

The article says Native language immersion programs could address two major challenges in Native American communities:

First, the number of first language speakers—that is, people who speak a Native American language as their first or one of their first languages—is rapidly declining. Early childhood language immersion programs are a strategy to reinvigorate language and cultural practices.

Second, Native communities face many socioeconomic circumstances that can be detrimental to healthy brain development in children. Language immersion programs can help counter these detrimental effects by offering experiences consistent with what young children need to thrive. Many children who learn their Native language and culture also have success with their overall education and well-being.

The article includes a couple of short video interviews with Wicoie staff and a parent, which are helpful in explaining the program.

Healing Minnesota Stories website also has a page dedicated to Native language revitalization. In 2015, we invited leadership from Wicoie Nandagikendan to speak to our group. Here is a link to the edited video and a written summary of their presentation.

Here is one passage from the presentation, summarizing comments by Jewell Arcoren (Dakota/Lakota), program consultant for Wicoie Nandagikendan. She explained that language revitalization reconnects people with their cultural identity and offers a path towards healing:

At a very young age, Arcoren said, kids in the language immersion program are learning how all things are interrelated. “We think of the water and the river as our relative. The trees are our relatives. Through our language, our kids learn to think like that,” she said.

Last fall [2014], for example, the Wicoie Nandagikendan students visited an apple orchard. The owner told the teachers this was his favorite group of kids because they were the only children that remembered to thank the apple trees. Arcoren said it is an example of how native languages teach respect and connect our people back to our  environment. “Language revitalization is another way for us to see how we can start healing as a
community,” she said.

An Opportunity for Church Action

This is a good time to remind readers about Healing Minnesota Stories purpose, and to make a pitch to support healing through revitalization of Native languages.

Healing Minnesota Stories is an initiative of the Saint Paul Interfaith Network. As we state in our website:

Healing Minnesota Stories is an effort to create understanding and healing between Native American and non-Native people, particularly those in various faith communities. Native people have suffered deep trauma over many years, losing their land, language and culture, and all who call Minnesota home are the lesser for it. While many people and institutions contributed to that trauma, it happened with the full participation of Christian churches. We all still need healing, healing is doable, and churches have a role to play in healing.

We have written extensively in this blog about the number of denominations that are seeking ways for healing and repentance from this history. (For example, many denominations have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. Click on the link for more details.)

One way to make concrete contributions toward healing from this history is by supporting the revitalization of Native languages, particularly the Dakota and Ojibwe languages in Minnesota.

The Federal Reserve article lists other Native American early childhood language immersion programs within the Federal Reserves Ninth District. In addition to Wicoie Nandagikendan, those listed in Minnesota are:

Check them out and consider a donation.


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