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 KENLEA HENSON
Reporter
01/22/2018 12:00 PM
NEW YORK CITY – Cherokee Nation citizen Miriam Reed is in her second year at Columbia University, where she said she’s adjusting well to college life and New York City. The 2016 Tahlequah High School graduate chose Columbia after attending its “Engineering Days.” To pay for her higher learning, she received an annual scholarship of $73,000 for four years from the university and earned the Gates Millennium Scholarship. Receiving the two scholarships not only pay for schooling and books, it also covers living expenses. However, Reed still maintains a part-time job. The transition to a big city and an Ivy League school was “surprisingly” smooth for Reed. She said she was part of an academic success program that introduced students to the campus and classes before their first semester began, which made adjustment easier. “I was homesick at first. You miss trees more than you think you would and just little things that you wouldn’t think would be different,” Reed said. “I was part of a five-week program before classes even got started where there was fewer people, and they really took the time to introduce you to the campus and had crash course over the courses you were going to take before you took them for a grade. So it was a bit easier adjustment than it could have been if I didn’t have that.” Now a sophomore, Reed has declared her major in operational research with hopes of working for a large corporation to understand finance and how businesses work. “I would like to ultimately work for a nonprofit and maybe teach them how to get small businesses running or maybe teach finance classes to local communities,” she said. She also enjoys participating in activities such as the Native American Council, Engineering Without Boarders Club, Society of Women Engineers Club, a sorority and dance team. Being active and networking at Columbia also offered Reed the opportunity to travel this past summer to Morocco in North Africa to teach SAT prep to high school students looking to attend college in the United States. “I got to go to Morocco to work for someone I met through Columbia. So I got to help them with their essays and help them study for the SAT and prepare them for what it’s like, taking any of their questions they had like what college is like in the United States and any misconceptions and really connect with them, which was really exciting,” she said. She said she never expected to have so many opportunities, but she realized networking is important for opportunities. Reed said attending an Ivy League school was intimidating initially, but now it’s home. “I had this preconceived idea that Ivy League schools were terrible and you can’t ever sleep or work, but that wasn’t accurate,” she said. “A lot of people say you’re just a number when you go to a school that big, but I wouldn’t say that’s true at Columbia. I have professors that really care, like if you miss class, they’ll email you and make sure your doing OK. You can still find your place and not be just a passing face. It’s still possible to feel at home.” She said even though being at home and around friends is comfortable, she’s happy she’s attending college outside Oklahoma. “Honestly, it’s been so rewarding, and I have learned a lot about myself, and I appreciate my roots a lot more now that I was able to experience being away from home and being around other people.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
01/18/2018 08:15 AM
TAHLEQUAH – Beginning this fall, Northeastern State University will increase the number of President’s Leadership Class scholarships awarded to incoming freshmen each year. According to NSU officials, the President's Leadership Class is a unique leadership and scholarship program designed to cultivate the outstanding potential of proven student leaders. Previously offered to about 15 incoming students each fall, the President’s Leadership Class scholarship will be awarded to 20 incoming freshmen in the fall 2018 semester and will increase to 25 over the next two years. The expansion will allow for a more comprehensive scholarship experience for student leaders, officials said. In the fall 2018 semester, incoming members of the President’s Leadership Class will receive more than $5,000 per semester for four years for housing, tuition and foundation support. “The President's Leadership Class is among the very best student aid programs in the state in terms of length (four years) and total value,” NSU President Steve Turner said. “By increasing the number of leadership scholarships over the next two years, we are demonstrating our commitment to meet our state's need for highly skilled college graduates.”? Applicants for the President’s Leadership Class should display outstanding leadership capabilities and must have an exceptionally strong academic record. High school seniors are required to have an ACT composite score of 20 or higher for consideration. Applications are available online at <a href="http://www.scholarships.nsuok.edu" target="_blank">scholarships.nsuok.edu</a>.
BY LINDSEY BARK
Reporter
12/15/2017 08:15 AM
NORMAN, Okla. – The application process for the Native American Journalists Association’s student-training program is open through Jan. 31. The Native American Journalism Fellowship is a student-training program committed to creating the next generation of storytellers through hands-on training in a weeklong immersion experience with professional journalists. “The Native American Journalism Fellowship is NAJA’s flagship program for Native media students. It has evolved over more than 25 years into a hands-on experience and has launched the careers of many successful NAJA members through mentorship, training and professional connections,” Rebecca Landsberry, NAJA executive director, said. College and graduate students will be able to broaden their reporting and multimedia skills by receiving multimedia training, a professional NAJA mentor, skills for job-readiness, connections to media jobs and internships though NAJA’s national network and upper-level college credit hours. Selected students will attend the 2018 National Native Media Conference set for July 16-22 in Miami, Florida, where they will attend regular meetings with a mentor and participate in all planned webinar trainings. Throughout the remainder of the fellowship, students are required to participate in online check-ins and trainings throughout the year, write and edit reporting assignments for inclusion on the NAJA Native Voice website and seek media-focused internships. “All fellows attend our national conference with all expenses paid, covering the event and local community as working journalists. In addition, they get on-site newsroom experience working with some of the best Indigenous media professionals from across the U.S., including other fellows. It’s an immersive experience, and they really get a chance to dig into the nuances of covering Indian Country, ask questions in a safe space and emerge from the experience as better reporters,” Landsberry said. Mentors can also apply to help oversee the fellows in their training. Mentor requirements include being a current NAJA member in good standing; journalism experience in print, broadcast or digital media; and are encouraged to bring any professional equipment to the newsroom experience such as cameras, video equipment, recording gear, etc. Visit <a href="http://www.naja.com" target="_blank">www.naja.com</a> to apply for the student fellowship or mentorship and to renew or become a new NAJA member. Annual memberships dues are $20 for college students and $55 for individual professional members. For more information, email NAJA Education Committee Chairwoman Victoria LaPoe at <a href="mailto: vlapoe@naja.com">vlapoe@naja.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
12/13/2017 03:15 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Northeastern State University American Indian Heritage Committee is accepting proposals for individuals interested in presenting at the 46th annual Symposium on the American Indian. Priority consideration will be given to proposals received by Dec. 15. The symposium will be April 16-21 on NSU’s Tahlequah campus. The theme, “Walking with our Ancestors: Preserving Culture and Honoring Tradition,” will provide a space for the Indigenous community to examine American Indian history and reflect on how the collective past influences who American Indians are as Indigenous peoples today. According to a NSU press release, American Indian people are often left out of conversations about minority groups, and many people believe they are only a part of the past not the present nor the future. “On the contrary, American Indians are still here preserving their culture and honoring their traditions by incorporating this knowledge into their present day professional careers,” the release states. “While Indigenous communities may look different, they still managed to maintain their identity and hold fast to their language, sovereignty, and Indigenous ways of living.” Proposals should focus on one of the following: cultural preservation, Indigenous knowledge (multi-disciplinary), history (from an Indigenous perspective), intergenerational/historical trauma (impact, healing, etc.), tribal sovereignty and/or language revitalization. The committee will conduct a blind review of each proposal. The best proposals will articulate a clear objective and purpose as well as importance of the point of view to be expressed. Proposals need to show evidence of scholarly care, clear and effective argument and/or a basis in research. Proposals can be sent to <a href="https://offices.nsuok.edu/centerfortribalstudies/NSUSymposium.aspx" target="_blank">https://offices.nsuok.edu/centerfortribalstudies/NSUSymposium.aspx</a>. The Symposium on the American Indian is a community event. There is no registration fee and events are open to the public. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cts.nsuok.edu" target="_blank">cts.nsuok.edu</a> and follow the link to the NSU Symposium or email <a href="mailto: tribalstudies@nsuok.edu">tribalstudies@nsuok.edu</a> or call 918-444-4350.
BY KENLEA HENSON
Reporter
12/08/2017 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – On Dec. 2, the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program graduated four students at a graduation ceremony in the Armory Municipal Center. Larry Carney, of Tulsa; Ronnie Duncan, of Bell; Lisa O’Field, of Hulbert; and Toney Owens, of Rocky Mountain received a certificate of completion, copper gorget and Pendleton blanket. Operated through the Cherokee Nation’s Community and Cultural Outreach, participants are taught the Cherokee language by master speakers Doris Shell, Cora Flute and Gary Vann. The program is geared towards teaching CN citizens to be proficient conversational Cherokee language speakers and teachers. Howard Paden, CLMAP manager, said the program stemmed from a “need” for the language. “This program gets people speaking our language again. You know, we seen a need for it because a lot of the (Cherokee) Immersion (Charter) School parents seen a need to not only push their kids to learn the language but to learn themselves and start having Cherokee speaking households,” Paden said. Students spend two years and typically 40 hours a week learning the Cherokee language in a classroom from the master speakers. Students are also encouraged to visit with fluent Cherokee-speaking elders to practice and learn from them. However, to ensure individuals are able to dedicate the needed time to the program, they each receive a $10 an hour stipend. “They learn a lot of Cherokee. From when they first walk into the classroom to probably two months they already learn about 5,000 words,” Paden said. “The first year is primarily learning as much as they can, and by the second year we expect them to start teaching. Of course they have a master speaker there that can assist them, but they begin to teach phrases to the next group that comes in. So every January we get a new group, so the people that are in their last year will begin teaching in January to the new group that we have coming in.” Since its inception nearly three years ago, the program has graduated six students and is expected to graduate six more in 2018 and eight in 2019. Gary Vann, CLMAP master speaker, said he’s seen an increase in applicants since the program’s first year. “When we first started out there was only a handful of applicants, this past application process we saw 100 applications come in,” Vann said. “It makes me feel good because there are people out there that still want to learn our language and that are interested in speaking our language again, especially the younger generations.” Owens, 30, said the program has influenced his life and set him on a path of teaching the Cherokee language. “I’ve always wanted to learn Cherokee, and I heard about the program, and I couldn’t believe it was real. Now it kind of comes in to your everyday life you start to think about things different and naturally you start speaking Cherokee instead of English, so it just becomes your life, it becomes a part of who you are,” Owens said. “Since I will no longer be employed by the program I will have to find a form of income, but I will continue to pursue a teaching degree at Northeastern State University to hopefully teach Cherokee. My goal is to one day teach at the immersion school because it has the most chance of forming Cherokee speakers.” Owens said he believes the program has helped him so much to become a proficient speaker that it’s the most effective way to acquire the language. He suggests the program to those who are interested in learning to speak the Cherokee language. For more information, call 918-453-5445.
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Reporter – @cp_bbennett
12/07/2017 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Foundation and Northeastern State University’s Native American Support Center hosted a scholarship workshop Nov. 28 for students wanting to get ahead of CNF’s Jan. 31 scholarship deadline. “This is our first (workshop) through the Native American Support Center as far as hosting the Cherokee Nation Foundation, and so we are looking forward to working with them more and bringing them on campus and getting them involved in our program,” Jade Hansen, NASC advisement and career specialist, said. The NASC, part of NSU’s Center for Tribal Studies, provides Native students services such as financial aid information to increase retention and graduation rates. “We really focus these workshops for our new freshmen because a lot of things I’m seeing working here at NSU is that these students are running out of money going into their second year and their third year and their fourth year,” she said. “And so with CNF, it’s pretty much like a hidden gem. It’s getting that information out that a lot of students don’t really know about with the CNF programs.” Hansen said she was a CNF scholarship recipient while attending NSU. “Whenever I was in college I got this scholarship, and not a lot of people knew about it, and it helped out,” she said. “It takes a lot to apply for this scholarship as far as recommendation letters, transcripts and different things like that, but hopefully doing it now will get (students) prepared so they’re not waiting around last minute in January.” Marisa Hambleton, CNF executive assistant, said CNF conducts workshops when an organization or school with a high number of Cherokee students reaches out to it. “We’re more than happy to travel and come out and help those students apply for those scholarships,” she said. “We really try to reach any schools that really show an interest. We don’t have a specific (process) where we set it up and anything like that yet. With the more scholarships that we receive, we try to market that as best that we can.” Hambleton said CNF scholarships are not income-based, and students who participate in the workshops should come prepared with updated transcripts and their CN citizenship cards. The CNF scholarship application is a two-step process. Students must first visit <a href="http://www.cherokeenation.academicworks.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeenation.academicworks.com</a> and complete the general applications, which matches them to individual scholarships for which they are eligible to apply. “The general application is just basic information, their name, their address, what school they’re interested, what field of study,” Hambleton said. “That information is then what matches them to specific scholarships, and then they apply for those scholarships individually.” Hambleton said each scholarship includes at least one essay question and asks students to submit information for a reference questionnaire. “A reference questionnaire is where the student chooses someone who is not a family member, someone that knows them like a teacher or a coach or someone in their community,” Hambleton said. “They’ll put in their email address and their name and it will send a link to a short survey that really asks them to rate the student from one to 10 in different areas.” The Academic Works website also allows students to check if their reference questionnaires have been completed, and if not, students can resend the links or change their references. Hambleton also said a student is not required to complete the application in one sitting. “Our application’s pretty simple, and you can save for later if you need to, so it’s not just a one-time sit down,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t have all the information that you need right then and there, and so it’s easy for students to save and keep editing and then submit at a later date.” CNF scholarship recipients will be notified by the end of the 2018 spring semester. Students needing assistance with the scholarship application or organizations and schools interested in hosting a scholarship workshop should call 918-207-0950.