Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 17, 2004 - Issue 111


pictograph divider


Restoring the Oneida language

credits: photo: Signage incorporates Oneida language and English at the Lee McLester II Elder Complex (photo by H. Marc Larson).

Tribe approaches language education from new angle

Signage incorporates Oneida language and English at the Lee McLester II Elder Complex (photo by H. Marc Larson).There are few things more important or dear to a culture than its language. To that end, the Oneida Nation is taking steps to preserve its language. On Wednesday, leaders of the Oneida Tribe of Indians will sign a charter outlining a broad language immersion strategy.

The charter, developed by the Oneida Language Charter Team, is a plan to help language members become fluent in the Oneida language, according to Dr. Carol Cornelius, area manager of the Oneida Cultural Heritage Department. The team consists of 13 members, two of which are serving on the Oneida Language Revitalization Program and others from the nation's human resources, gaming, education and administrative branches.

As called for by the charter, the Oneida Nation has hired a linguist fluent in the Oneida and Mohawk languages who can assist tribal members in learning the Oneida language.

Oneida culture outlines a formula for remembering history while making decisions for the future.

"We have to look back seven generations to see what our people did," Cornelius said. She added that today's decisions are made with an eye toward the interests of tribal members seven generations from now.

The charter's objective, in accord with Oneida culture, states that in seven generations the Oneida people and the Oneida organization will speak the Oneida language, Cornelius said.

To begin to realize that plan, the Oneida Nation will form a teacher certification program and the Oneida Business Committee will send communications to 3,000 government employees informing them the Oneida language is the tribe's official language.

While short-term plans for language immersion are coming together, long-range objectives to get the nation's 15,000 members scattered across the globe to speak fluent Oneida are on the horizon, according to Brian A. Doxtator, charter team member and member of the Oneida Business Committee. Members of the Oneida tribe living on or near the reservation number 5,000.

The charter team is a tool to expand bilingual learning, an objective that was present in the establishment of the Oneida Language Revitalization Program in 1995. Under the program, elders fluent in the Oneida language teach the language to younger adults.

The program was initiated after a survey found only 25-30 elders who learned the Oneida language as their first language were alive.

Lavinia Webster, the first elder in the program, recently died, Cornelius said. Now, two of the teachers, at the ages of 82 and 85, are working 20 hours a week with the program, Cornelius said.

The revitalization program's Web site contains the image of a faceless corn husk doll carrying a basket; the basket carried by the doll symbolizes the teaching of the Oneida language from generation to generation.

Cornelius recounted the story of the corn husk doll. The doll became so preoccupied with her beauty that she forgot to care for the children for whom she was responsible. As a consequence, the creator took away her face so she would not forget her responsibilities.

Cornelius said it is the Oneida tribal members' responsibility to learn the Oneida language from the elders and transfer it to following generations.

"Even if you only know one word, use it," she said.

Doxtator said he is studying to become fluent - fluent meaning he will be able to speak the language as seamlessly as the water flows when it is being poured, he said.

The Oneida Nation is faced with expanding the vocabulary of the Oneida language. About 10 years ago, fluent speakers of the language traveled from Canada and New York to the reservation to work with Oneida tribal members in developing new words. There was a time, Doxtator said, when things such as a floor, hot dog, french fries or computer could not be expressed in the Oneida language.

Traces of the Oneida language program can be seen on the reservation, Doxtator said. A grocery store on the reservation sells food labeled in English and Oneida. Part of the charter team's task will be to decide how to change street names and building signs to accommodate usage of the two tongues.

"Our language defines our culture and it's important we remember our language and our culture," Doxtator said.

Oneida Cultural Heritage Language Revitalization Program
"The Oneida Language Revitalization mission is to provide our community every opportunity to learn the Oneida language and culture. Our goal is to rekindle a fluent speaking community by providing language and culture resources. By upholding this, we are tying our arrows together so that our language will not be broken."

Oneida Indian Reservation, WI Map

Maps by Travel

pictograph divider

Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!