At the Cultures of Resistance Network, we recognize that language is an essential means of transmitting cultural identity and educating future generations about indigenous knowledge and traditions. Yet, a global history of colonialism, racism, and discrimination has led to the extinction of approximately 600 languages in the last century. According to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 90 percent of the world's languages are at risk of disappearing in the next 100 years. With most indigenous knowledge being passed down orally through the generations, and fewer and fewer young people learning linguistic traditions from their elders, the vast archive of traditional knowledge is at risk of being lost forever.
Recognizing the urgent need to protect traditional knowledge and culture, the CoR Network celebrates the indigenous language revitalization projects of groups such as Cultural Survival and the National Geographic Society. CoR Network ally Cultural Survival runs the Endangered Languages Program, in which it partners with tribal language programs in the United States to strengthen fundraising efforts for linguistic education projects, including language immersion schools and camps and master-apprentice programs that pair a fluent speaker with a second language learner. They have also worked with the National Alliance to Save Native Languages to lobby Congress for increased support and funding for Native language programs. Finally, Cultural Survival is creating The Language Gathering, an internet hub around which previously isolated language preservation activists can come together to share techniques and strategies for strengthening their tribal language programs.
Like Cultural Survival's Endangered Languages Project, the National Geographic Society, another long-term CoR Network ally, created the Enduring Voices Project, which uses modern technology to help indigenous communities preserve their endangered languages. The Enduring Voices Project provides Language Technology Kits and training to indigenous communities whose language traditions are at risk of being lost. Through this technology, community members are empowered to record their languages through film, audio, photographs, and written materials and, where available, archive the resources they develop online. National Geographic has also collaborated with language preservation organizations such as the Living Tongues Institute to host workshops that bring together community language activists to dialogue about language revitalization strategies. Workshop participants are trained in digital storytelling, desktop publishing, videography and photography and are given their own Language Technology Kits to strengthen their own tribal language initiatives.
In this short film from National Geographic, the Enduring Voices Project visits speakers of endangered languages in New Zealand and India.
Below are some ways you can learn more and help indigenous people protect their languages and traditional knowledge:
• Check out UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger section to learn about the regions that are most dramatically experiencing language loss.
• Visit Cultural Survival's website for a list of opportunities to become directly involved with their language preservation project.
• Go to the Linguistic Society of America's Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation website and sign up to be alerted of opportunities for political action in support of endangered languages. You can also visit the Committee's action page to join their letter-writing campaign in favor of an Executive Order on Native American Language Revitalization.