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Annual Gathering Helps Preserve Native Language for Okla. Students

Many of the Native American languages found in Oklahoma are endangered, but a unique program just celebrated its 10th anniversary of trying to preserve and nourish that heritage.

The Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair began in April 2003 at the University of Oklahoma's Sam Noble Museum in Norman, Okla. Three people—elder and teacher Geneva Navarro (Comanche), Indian educator Quinton Roman Nose (Cheyenne), and the Sam Noble Museum's Native American Languages curator Mary Linn—wanted to find a way to recognize the state's students and teachers of Native languages.

They conceived the idea for the fair, and the first year attracted about 200 students and teachers who did spoken language performances, songs with dance, and poster art.

Since then, it's grown to take place over two days with more than three times as many attendees and six additional categories. It's one of the few times outside of schools that some students are able to use their Native languages. More than 20 languages are represented each year.

The National Indian Education Association recently recognized the "one of its kind" program and said it was significant to the Native American languages and Tribes of Oklahoma.

"By conducting the fairs, I am confident you have 'planted the seeds' of future growth for our Native languages with the students who have and will participate in the ONAYLF [Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair]," wrote Roman Nose, who now serves as president of the National Indian Education Association.

He wrote that the NIEA had made Native languages a high priority and would continue to do so, especially with success of a NIEA supported federal program for Native Languages such as the Esther Martinez Act.

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