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Tribal Languages to Get Higher Profile in Oklahoma Schools

To help stave off the extinction of multiple American Indian languages in their state, Oklahoma education officials have issued new rules that should make it easier for public schools to offer tribal language classes.

The Oklahoman newspaper reports that the rule change will open up the possibility of more teachers of tribal languages to become specially certified to teach in schools under the auspices of a regularly certified teacher. Such tribal language instructors would have to be re-certified every year. The new rules also will make the tribal language courses credit-bearing, just as Spanish and French are, according to the newspaper.

With 39 federally recognized tribes and more than 130,000 Native youth enrolled in its public schools, Oklahoma's effort, if successful, could make an important impact on preserving tribal languages.

American Indian languages are some of the most endangered in the world, but there are a growing number of efforts underway in public schools to not only preserve the languages, but to put them into more regular practice among Native youth. The state of Montana recently invested $2 million in a pilot program that allows tribes themselves to develop language curricula, dictionaries, language apps, and teacher-training materials in languages such as Blackfeet and Kootenai.

Late last year, Education Week spent time in two tribal communities engaged in different endeavors to keep their languages alive and steep youth in their cultural and linguistic history and identity. 

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