Kansas linguistics professor wins grant to preserve language

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
08/06/2017 04:00 PM
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — At the time of his death in 1999, Parker McKenzie was regarded as the oldest living member of the Kiowa tribe. Born in a teepee in Oklahoma three years prior to the 20th century, he was also widely recognized as an amateur linguist who played a fundamental role in developing a dictionary of his native Kiowa language nearly 100 years ago.

"He was just known for being the guy that you would go to," Andrew McKenzie recalls of his great-grandfather, whose many projects included the documentation of Kiowa history, cultural artifacts and language.

The elder McKenzie's method for writing Kiowa using English characters is still used, in a modified version, by researchers today. And Andrew McKenzie, who grew up knowing bits and pieces of the language, is one of them.

McKenzie, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Kansas, recently secured a grant from the federal government that will allow him to continue his great-grandfather's work in preserving the Kiowa language — a pressing need, McKenzie says, as the number of fluent Kiowa speakers dwindles by the year.

"Languages only exist in our minds, so once those speakers leave us, they take the knowledge with them, essentially, unless that knowledge is preserved through documentation," says McKenzie, who began formally studying Kiowa about 20 years ago. "In that sense, the documentation becomes essential because it would allow the language to survive into the future."

The more complete that documentation is, McKenzie adds, the better chances are for the language's survival as native speakers pass away. Kiowa, like many North American languages, is "extremely endangered," says McKenzie, who estimates there are about 60 fluent speakers left. They're mostly elderly and concentrated in McKenzie's home state of Oklahoma, where he often travels to conduct interviews with remaining Kiowa speakers. And they likely won't be around much longer, he says.

"I think the youngest person I've worked with was in their 80s," McKenzie says.

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that earlier this month, McKenzie learned he'd won a three-year grant from the Documenting Endangered Languages program of the National Science Foundation. The $112,000 award will allow him to "fill a gap" in the study of Kiowa grammar, work his great-grandfather started as a kid passing notes in his native tongue — speaking Kiowa was strictly forbidden at the boarding school he and other Native Americans were forced to attend — during class to his girlfriend, funnily enough.

That early system devised by Parker McKenzie became the basis for methods still used today, though there's no consensus on the matter, McKenzie says. The Kiowa tribe has never voted to designate an official writing system.

These days, McKenzie is using his great-grandfather's system to document and expand our understanding of Kiowa's semantic grammar. Or, as McKenzie describes it, "the meaning of the language, and how that meaning interacts with the structure."

Linguistically, Kiowa's closest relatives are the handful of languages spoken by Pueblo peoples in New Mexico, McKenzie says. It's far removed from more well-known North American dialects such as Cherokee and Navajo, he says, and completely unrelated to European languages. Kiowa is unique, among other traits, for its ejective sounds and tone system, in which "the pitch of the sound can be as distinctive as two distinct sounds," McKenzie explains.

Throughout the duration of the grant, McKenzie will work on a book, associated scholarly articles and teaching materials such as booklets, games and flashcards.

"Growing up I remember he would frequently lament that his progeny were not learning the language," McKenzie says of his great-grandfather. "In that sense, I think he'd be excited."

"I think if he were still around, he'd be the first to help me out," McKenzie said.

Education

BY ROGER GRAHAM
Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
07/18/2018 03:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – Taylor Armbrister, a Cherokee Nation citizen and summer intern for the CN Environmental Resources Department, enjoys nature and plants so much that he earned a scholarship to Dartmouth, an Ivy League school. How he arrived in Tahlequah, via his hometown of Kansas, Oklahoma, by way of Hanover, New Hampshire, is nearly as impressive as the higher education institute he attends. “How I got here was by hearing from other Cherokees. I’m interested in environmental studies and Native American studies, and I needed something to do this summer. So I checked out Cherokee Nation’s Environmental Resources Department and spoke with Secretary Sara Hill,” Armbrister said. “She then got me in touch with Senior Director Pat Gwin and cultural biologist Feather Smith Trevino. They told me what I’d be doing, and it sounded interesting. I mean this would be a good first step learning what Cherokee Nation is doing when it comes to the environmental aspect of it.” He said the then drafted a proposal to the Dartmouth Native American Studies Department because it funds unpaid internships, which includes paying for housing, travel and food. “Anyway, they decided to fund it, so now I’m out here working with Feather until the end of August,” Armbrister said. And Smith Trevino said she’s happy to have the extra help. “This is actually the first time since I’ve been working in the garden that we’ve had an intern. It’s really helped me out because things that can take me all day long to get done. Taylor and I can knock out in about half a day.” Armbrister’s duties include weed eating and watering, but he also helped mulch the garden and is helping redesign a rock garden. “You never know how people are going to handle Oklahoma heat. It’s really starting to get hot now, but so far Taylor’s done really well. And I appreciate the extra pair of hands,” Trevino Smith said. Regarding his future and the college he attends, Armbrister said he’s taking things slowly. “So my plan is to have a double major and possibly go to law school afterwards, and maybe go into environmental law. I received a generous merit scholarship, so luckily I won’t be owing anything afterwards, which is why I’m considering law school. I’ve got time,” he said. According to its website, when Dartmouth was founded on Dec. 13, 1769, its charter created a college “for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land and also of English Youth and any others.” But this central tenet of the college’s charter went largely unfilled for 200 years as Dartmouth counted only 20 Native American students among its graduates prior to 1970. When Dartmouth’s 13th president took office in 1970, he rededicated the institution to education Natives. Following recruitment, Dartmouth welcomed 15 Native American students that fall. Also, a group of students voiced the need for an academic program dedicated to the study of Native American literature, culture and history. So a committee was formed to look into the creation of a Native American Studies program. The department recently celebrated its 4oth anniversary. The college’s refocused effort to educate Native Americans has given Taylor and other tribal citizens great opportunities. “Dartmouth now houses more Native Americans than any other Ivy (League school). The opportunities are endless,” he said.
BY ROGER GRAHAM
Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
07/18/2018 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH – Performers from Northeastern Oklahoma State University’s River City Players “Rock ‘n’ Roll Replay” were a big hit recently in front of a full house at the NSU Playhouse, located at 300 N. Muskogee Avenue. But that’s old news. The group is in midseason of the 35th year of its existence and Cherokee Nation citizens have always been involved, CN citizen and NSU River City Players Artistic Director Robyn Pursley said. “Two of our performers, Adam Childress and Trico Blue, are both Cherokee Nation citizens. In our band we have Bradley Spears, who’s our guitar player, and Farren Mayfield, who’s the leader of our band, and they are both Cherokee Nation citizens.” Pursley also said the show’s choreographer, Sydney Jennings, as well as herself are CN citizens. “The River City Players have been entertaining audiences since 1983. This will be my nineteenth season with them,” Pursley said. “RCP produces two different shows throughout the summer season. We do a rock ’n’ roll show and a country/western show. We call them Branson-style shows because it’s live music and dancing. We also have a live band on stage as well as singers and dancers.” Blue, who does a rendition of Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman” in the show, said he’s thrilled about the attendance each show. “I’ve fallen in love with getting to perform for my local community in the Tahlequah area. Being from Hulbert, Oklahoma, it’s great to see all the local people, including my Hulbert neighbors, coming in to see the show and loving it.” The River City Players have four performances a week. Visitors can see the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Replay” show at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday nights and at 2 p.m. on Saturdays. The “Country Tradition” shows are at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Those interested in seeing the shows can call the NSU Playhouse box office at 918-444-4500. Tickets may also be purchased online. Go to <a href="http://www.nsuok.edu" target="_blank">www.nsuok.edu</a> and search for River City Players. Ticket prices start at $7.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
07/11/2018 08:30 AM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s College Resources continues to provide scholarships to concurrent, undergraduate and graduate students to help them continue their educational endeavors. College Resources serves 147 high schools in the jurisdiction and surrounding counties. In the 2017-18 school yea, 4,325 undergraduate and graduates students and 417 concurrent students received financial aid. “We’re primarily focused toward high school juniors and seniors and then the current students that we have trying to keep them in school and trying to make sure they meet the deadlines,” Jennifer Pigeon, CN Education Services’ fiscal management and administration manager, said. College Resources provides concurrent enrollment scholarships, high school valedictorian and salutatorian scholarships, undergraduate scholarships, graduate scholarships and financial assistance for directed studies. Concurrent students who are high school juniors receive financial aid for tuition, books and fees for up to six hours of general education courses. Seniors only receive financial aid for books and fees due to a state waiver that pays for tuition. Senior valedictorians and salutatorians receive a one-time scholarship upon graduating high school. Valedictorians receive up to $1,000 and salutatorians receive up to $750. Undergraduate and graduate students receive up to $2,000 per semester. “Once they’re accepted, undergrads are required to maintain a 2.0, concurrent a 2.5, and our graduates just need to remain in good standing with the college that they’re in,” Pigeon said. She said to renew their scholarships students must turn in their grades and community service hours. One hour of community service is required for every $100 received. Pigeon said students taking part in directed studies are limited to a University of Oklahoma rate of an equivalent degree meaning. For example, if a student is studying to become a doctor, dentist, or lawyer and do not choose to attend OU, College Resources will pay up to whatever OU’s rate would charge by paying for the tuition, books, fees, any required equipment and a housing stipend. CN citizens and citizens of federally recognized tribes are eligible to receive College Resources financial aid. However, federally recognized tribal citizens besides CN citizens are only awarded if they qualify for the federal Pell grant known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. The award varies based on the number of applicants. College Resources also provides a computer lab at the W.W. Keeler Complex equipped with six computer stations, printers and scanners to help students with the application process, and College Resources staff also participate in college and career fairs such the tribe’s College and Career Night to promote scholarship opportunities to students. Information, applications and deadlines for the 2019-20 school year can be found at <a href="http://www.cherokee.org/Services/Education/College-Resources" target="_blank">www.cherokee.org/Services/Education/College-Resources</a> or by calling 1-800-256-0671, ext. 5465 or emailing <a href="mailto: collegeresources@cherokee.org">collegeresources@cherokee.org</a>.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
07/08/2018 02:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Tuition will increase at 21 of Oklahoma's 25 higher education institutions. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education on Thursday approved tuition and fees for each of the state's colleges and universities. Only the University of Oklahoma, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Eastern Oklahoma State College and Murray State College did not seek a tuition increase. The Oklahoman reports that several college presidents cited the need to raise faculty and staff pay as a reason for the increase. The increases range from $130.80 at Carl Albert State College to $480 at both Oklahoma Panhandle State University and the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. Tuition at Oklahoma State University will rise by $280.50.
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
07/03/2018 04:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An anti-tax group seeking to roll back a package of tax increases approved by the Oklahoma Legislature to help fund a teacher pay raise said Monday it is abandoning the effort. The Oklahoma Supreme Court's recent decision to toss the group's ballot initiative didn't leave enough time to gather the 42,000 signatures needed to place the question on the November ballot, said Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, one of the organizers of Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite. "The court really cut us short on time," Vuillemont-Smith said. The anti-tax group led by former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn was seeking a public vote to repeal tax hikes on cigarettes, fuel and energy production that were approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year to help fund an average teacher pay raise of $6,100. The tax increases took effect on Sunday. But the Supreme Court ruled a description of the proposal on signature pages was insufficient and that its ballot title was misleading. The court said the group would have to start over with a new petition and gather the required number of signatures by July 18. Lawmakers were seeking to placate teachers frustrated with low pay and dwindling state funding. Despite the raise, teachers walked off the job for two weeks this spring and descended on the Capitol seeking more funding for public schools. Vuillemont-Smith said the group was not opposed to raising teacher pay, but said state leaders should have found other ways to fund the raises without raising taxes. The tax increases were the first in Oklahoma in more than two decades since voters approved a constitutional requirement that any tax increase receive a three-fourth's vote of the Legislature or be approved by a vote of the people. Opposition to the tax hikes has come at a political cost . Many of the anti-tax Republicans in the House who voted against the package faced primary opposition this year. Two GOP incumbents were defeated in last week's primary election. Several others were forced into a primary runoff after failing to secure a majority of votes in the primary.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
06/25/2018 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – Cherokee Nation citizen LaNice Belcher, a junior at Oklahoma City University, is going into her third and final year as an instrument music education major in the fall. Belcher attends OCU’s Wanda L. Bass School of Music. She said she takes 16 to 17 credit hours per semester while attending rehearsals as a bassoon player and teaches every evening at a music-based, after-school program called El Sistema. “That’s probably the best part of me going off to school because I work with inner city youth in downtown Oklahoma City, and so the program’s really great. We feed them, they get homework help, and we have classes for them,” Belcher said. Belcher said she was interested in instrument music education to become a teacher upon graduating from OCU. But in light of the recent Oklahoma teacher walkout, she’s considering other options such as obtaining a master’s degree in bassoon performance, nonprofit leadership, or getting a degree to become a radiology technician. “When I came to this program it was just so music-heavy I thought I was starting to burn out a little bit. I was starting to lose the focus of where the love originally came from. For me to be able to balance that and have the medicine side of things is like really vital,” she said. Before the end of this past spring semester, Belcher was elected OCU’s Collegiate National Association for Music Educators’ president for her local chapter to help create opportunities for her fellow music educators. She’s also involved in an upcoming collaboration called Project 21, where she’ll work with a local group at OCU to work with music composition majors, give fellow musicians the opportunity to play modern music compositions and get to know future colleagues such as music directors in the Oklahoma City area. For the summer, Belcher said she has an internship in OKC for the Inasmuch Fellowship to work with the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and the Paseo Arts Association to do grant research, fundraising, event planning and social media outreach. She also will continue her job at El Sistema throughout the summer and into the fall semester. “I take pride in the things. I want to do them well. If can’t do them well I won’t do them,” Belcher said.