Native American Words

The Native American peoples suffered many things during the western push of the new European American settlers, which displaced them from their traditional lands. Among the many tragedies endured was the loss of their language, the loss of their own Native American words and ways of expression. Government oppression played a huge role in the near complete disappearance of many native languages.

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the government instituted boarding schools for Native American children that they were forced to attend, in which their Native American words and customs were forbidden, punished. By the time the children left school, the majority barely had enough Native American words left to communicate with elder relations and many had been successfully taught a sort of contempt for those old fashioned ways of their elders.

This stealing away of Native American words from the youth led to the extinction of many of the lesser known languages of the smaller tribes and greatly reduced the number of speakers of the languages of the larger tribes. Today, many of those languages that survived the period of strong governmental efforts at eradication are spoken only by a few elderly tribal members, and can be expected to – for all practical purposes – follow the others into forgotten history.

However, in recent decades many efforts have been made by researchers and tribal members to reconstruct the disappeared languages and to strengthen those that remain by making careful records of Native American words. There are numerous collections of Native American words available now, and some of the languages of the larger tribes are enjoying a resurgence of sorts.

The efforts to suppress Native American words as a part of destroying their culture, after taking almost everything else that the indigenous peoples had is a shameful blot on American history and governmental practices and policies. It is fortunate that so many are dedicated to restoring Native American words to their rightful place in culture, ensuring the survival of the few of these indigenous languages that are left.

Joseph Paige 2006

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