Language Planning and Policy in Native America

Language Planning and Policy in Native AmericaWith her book Language Planning and Policy in Native America published this week, Teresa L. McCarty tells us a little about how the book came about.

The first thing I should say about this book is … it’s been a long time coming! In a way, I have been writing this book since I first set foot in the small Navajo community of Rough Rock, Arizona in the early 1980s to take a job as a curriculum writer. Although we didn’t call it this at the time, my Navajo colleagues and I were doing grass roots language planning and policymaking (LPP). By the time I proposed this book to Multilingual Matters in 2000, I had worked with many Native American communities on similar grass roots language planning efforts. It took another decade-plus for the book to come to fruition (thank you Tommi Grover, Nancy Hornberger, and Colin Baker for sticking with it all these years!), but hopefully the maturity has added substance, scope, and the collected wisdom of more Indigenous-language planners.

Kauanoe Kamanā teaching Nāwahī kindergartners the Hawaiian syllabary (photograph courtesy of Nāwahī Laboratory School)

This second thing readers should know is that this is a peopled account. Here, readers will meet Daryl Baldwin and his colleagues in the Myaamia (Miami) Language Project, and Jessie Little Doe Baird and her colleagues in the Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) Language Reclamation Project, who are reviving languages which, until they began their inspirational work in the 1990s, had not had a native speaker for decades (in the case of Wôpanâak, more than 150 years). From the accounts of these formerly ‘sleeping’ languages, to the Hawaiian-language ‘renaissance’, to the family-based California master-apprentice program, to the Mohawk Freedom and Survival Schools, to Navajo-medium schooling in the southwestern US, the book explores both the challenges and the victories of Indigenous community-driven LPP. Achieving linguistic and educational sovereignty is a big piece of the story, as is a theory of ‘safe’ versus ‘dangerous’ linguistic diversity. I also highlight the perspectives and experiences of an often invisibilized group of stakeholders: Indigenous youth. I am honored and excited to bring these stories forward.

Learning in Nāwahī’s garden (photograph courtesy of Nāwahī LaboratorySchool)
Learning in Nāwahī’s garden (photograph courtesy of Nāwahī Laboratory School)

The cover image may state the book’s message more powerfully than any words, as 84-year-old Hubert McCord – one of a handful of Mojave speakers – leans toward 13-year-old Winona Castillo in a gesture of affection, pride, and optimism for the next generation of language learners. Above all, I hope the book will speak to all who strive for linguistic and social justice, inspiring us to, in the words of Acoma poet Simon Ortiz, ‘fight back’ and ‘fight on’.

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