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Language of the Heart: Chickasaw Language Reclamation as a Life’s Pursuit

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Title: Language of the Heart: Chickasaw Language Reclamation as a Life’s Pursuit
Authors: Chew, Kari
Begay, Sherrie
Issue Date: 03 Mar 2017
Description: As Chickasaw language learners and teachers, we believe strongly that it is through our oral traditions—expressed through our languages—that we are instructed “to be a people in heart, thought, behavior, and conduct as [we] pursue life’s fulfillment” (Nicholas, 2014, p. 64). Significantly, a small but increasing number of Chickasaw citizens have exemplified vigorous and persistent pursuits of sustaining Chikashshanompa', the Chickasaw language, over time and transcending colonization. This paper considers what it means for Chickasaw language learners and teachers to engage in language reclamation as a life’s pursuit. A Chickasaw language learner and researcher compelled to understand this phenomenon, Author A utilized a culturally-grounded methodology to conduct interviews with other Chickasaw language learners and teachers representing distinct generational categories and demographics, such as young adults employed by the tribal language program, youth enrolled in language classes, and adults residing outside of the Chickasaw Nation. From these learners’ stories, three key themes emerged as central to the vitality and efficacy of Chickasaw language reclamation, including a 1) raised critical Chickasaw consciousness (Lee, 2009; Smith, 2005); 2) conception of Chikashshanompa' as cultural practice (Nicholas, 2009); and 3) (re)valuing of language learners (Meek, 2011; Wyman, McCarty, & Nicholas, 2014). We draw on Author A’s research findings as a context to share Author B’s personal story as one example of the way in which the pursuit of language reclamation over a lifetime may unfold. To this end, Author B, a community member actively involved in Chickasaw language education, begins her story with her own experience of awakening to the importance and value of her Indigenous heritage language, which she began to learn from her father, to her sense of self and purpose for her life. Author B powerfully asserts that her journey has been one not only of reclaiming her language but her life itself. Recognizing that she had a gift for learning and teaching language, Author B began to teach an online Chikashshanompa' course to help other Chickasaws connect to and find their place in the Chickasaw Nation through language, no matter where they live. This paper ultimately seeks to explore the importance of sustaining cultural and linguistic practices, offering as evidence the vital voices of Chickasaws language learners and teachers who have restructured their lives around ensuring the continuance of Chikashshanompa'. References Lee, T. S. (2009). Language, identity, and power: Navajo and Pueblo young adults’ perspectives and experiences with competing language ideologies. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 8(5), 307-320. Meek, B. A. (2011). Failing American Indian languages. American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 35(2), 43-60. Nicholas, S. E. (2009). “I live Hopi, I just don't speak it”—The critical intersection of language, culture, and identity in the lives of contemporary Hopi youth. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 8(5), 321-334. Nicholas, S. E. (2014b). “How are you Hopi if you can’t speak it?”: An ethnographic study of language as cultural practice among contemporary Hopi youth. In T. L. McCarty (Ed.), Ethnography and language policy (pp. 53-75). New York, NY: Routledge. Smith, G. H. (2005). Beyond political literacy: From conscientization to transformative praxis. Counterpoints, 275, 29-42. Wyman, L. T., McCarty, T. L., & Nicholas, S. E. (Eds.). (2014b). Indigenous youth and multilingualism: Language identity, ideology, and practice in dynamic cultural worlds. New York, NY: Routledge.
Appears in Collections:5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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