Over time, there has been increasing interest in culturally responsive teaching that grew since the late 1980’s and the early 1990s primarily because of the increasing diversity in the country’s classrooms. This is coupled with the concern over the low rate of success by the many racial and ethnic minority students despite numerous years of reforms in the education fields. The ongoing reform of the Native American education is further influenced by the fact that after years of population decline to the historic low of around 237,000 members in the year 1900 the American Indian populations in the US have started to rise. In fact, according to the census, the native population has doubled between 1970 and 2000 to around two and a half million with a half living in the urban areas such as major cities and towns and about a third living in the Reservations.
The large number of two million and a half Indians is composed of over 500 different tribes with each having its unique culture and sharing more than 200 languages that still survive. Of course, in part because of the education practices by the educational policies in the last two centuries a significant percentage of the Indian cultures and languages have been lost. For the purposes of this paper, the term Indian will be used to refer to the indigenous people regardless of their geographical positioning across the United States. The roots of the reform on the Native American education can be traced to the early 1970’s Indian activism that was a part of the general Civil Rights movement culminating in the passing of the Indian Education Act in 1972 and the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act in 1975. This meant that the Indian people should decide the Indian education. In the 1990s, the importance played by languages used in education became apparent with the Passing of the Native American Languages Act in 1991.
Despite the numerous social issues ailing Indians in America such as poverty, there has been a determined push to achieve social, economic, and political equality accompanied with a revival in their native identities such as the culture and traditions that are traditionally absent in schools. Therefore, this paper will explore the potential contribution of linguistic anthropology on the aforementioned reforms in the Native American Education. This is especially important considering the attempts by the reform to have more culturally relevant education curricula and teaching styles that can be regarded as culturally compatible. In addition, this paper will make recommendations on this issue relying on linguistic anthropological research on relevant works and articles on the subject. The paper will place a greater emphasis on the examination of five different areas including, linguistic stereotypes, Native American linguistic structures, the ethnography of communication, interethnic communication, and language, communication and education.
The term stereotype for the purpose of this article will be used in its basic meaning of a fixed, widely held and grossly oversimplified conception or image of a particular thing in the society that is often regarded as the truth despite its incorrectness. Barbara Meek in her paper, “And the Injun goes “How!”: Representations of American Indian English in white public space” describes some of the linguistic features present in the common media that depict fictional American Indian Speech. The language is grammatically flawed drawing its syntax from the nonstandard features that are similar to those present in “baby talk” or “foreigner talk.” Meek examines how these features project the characteristics of the stereotyped “Whiteman’s Indian.”
A clear example of this depiction is illustrated in the articles from the 1997 movie Con Air where a character states, “the Last Mohican is burnin’, man, at first, I thought he was singin’ YMCA, and then the flames hit” This is a perfect depiction of the Hollywood characterization of an Indian that is delivered by a character who lacks expression, verbal responses, and eye contact, all attributes of the popular conception a stoic Native American. Such obviously incorrect and ridiculous stereotypes have been critically examined with the portrayals of Indians noble savages, with the language used to represent them being mostly fictional. Features such as whooping, primitive and grunting with a Pidgin English best described as “weird.” In addition, silence has been prominently used in the Indian stereotype, having an off-screen narrator speak on behalf of Indian characters. Indian lexicon is also portrayed as having a significant usage of nature metaphors that reinforce the linguistic stereotype of how they speak. Finally, it is extremely common to find the Indian characters having a slow and ponderous delivery of their lines.
Meek argues that this speech and its linguistic features that are highlighted and influenced in the fictional dialogue denigrate and racialize the contemporary Native Americans. The linguistic images are a simple portrayal of a minority group as having a dysfluent and othered speech styles. The result of such linguistic stereotyping is the elimination of the Indian primacy, diversity, and contemporary presence by creating the image of the dominant white audience as indigenous because its language is linguistically unmarked and correct. However, Indians speech normally as linguistic anthropologists point out that “abnormal speech types” is not the same as “non-conventionalized” forms of speech that are used in everyday language.
Native American linguistic structures
Native American Linguistic Structures are numerous considering a large number of tribes and their diversity. As such, this paper will examine some of the linguistic structures including the Hopi grievance chants and their purpose as a mechanism of Social Control, and Warao ritual wailing. Robert Black examines Hopi chants and their purposes in the community. The Hopi chants are the announcements made by adult males on the rooftops in their villages. There are two kinds, the religious, and the secular; religious are made exclusively to deities and the secular chants are addressed to the people in the village and deal with the day-to-day affairs of the village. The chants offer a channel of addressing grievances and sustaining the intra-village harmony in compliance with the societal expectations of Hopi communal life. The announcement-chants serve to deliver information dealing with particular grievances and, therefore, operate as restraints on the behaviors that are socially unacceptable Nonetheless, the intriguing linguist structure lies in how the Hopi language is structured to distinguish between the announcement making from other verbal communications. This is achieved through unique vocal inflections, undulating melodic forms and pitch that are different from the traditional singing and that formal or casual communication.
Warao ritual wailing, on the other hand, regard the ritual wailing done by women of the Warao community at funerals that are a combination of both text and melody and often involve blaming unsuspecting and innocent individuals. Charles Briggs argues that the wailing provides the women with a voice normally reserved for males and, therefore, serves as to constrain the male political leaders and shamans. The laments are a contrast shifting from low, rhythmic, melodious, and slow musical phrases and the rhythmically irregular fast, and loud speech-like bursts. The linguistic structure of the melodic parts of the wails is simple and with a basic syntax and almost no semantic context with single words being repeated. On the other hand, the textual parts of the wails are complex often sounding like a discourse as opposed to music.
The ethnography of communication
The ethnography of Indian communication is best illustrated by Michael Forster’s article, “When words become deeds: An analysis of three Iroquois Longhouse speech events.” The modern Longhouse Iroquois is spread out across twelve reserves with a unique ancient oratorical tradition that has been preserved where speakers represent families, clans, or even entire nations and take their turn at making formal speeches. The speeches have a ritual purpose that is defined by the Longhouse people including a Thanksgiving Address whose purpose is to thank the creator for the natural world and its benefits. The elaboration of the benefits depends on the time allocated for the speech if it is long, and then they will be explored in detail while the short versions simply have a summary of the details. The other two speeches are the “he burns the tobacco” and the “skin dance at Six Nations Reserve” where the orator begs the creator for the same things mentioned in the thanksgiving to be returned.
The hierarchy of spirit forces that are supposed to occupy different stations along the path from the Sky world to Earth guides these speeches. Nevertheless, the speeches have different delivery styles including voice intonations, staging, non-linguistic aids, and phrasing. The speeches at their foundations are simple complementary expressions of a single underlying pattern. To distinguish them anthropologists rely on the key utterance at the end sections of the speech that define the speech as a whole, serve as the climax of other statements and are brief versions of their containing speeches.
The speeches structure and ordering serve to provide insight into the social perceptions of the Iroquois. The hierarchy of items in the speech begin with the “younger, lower and less important” and move to the “older, higher and more important.” The items then form separate sections in the speeches with breaks among the major groups. For example, a speech is divided into three sections with sub-categories; Earthy Spirit Forces, that include earth, water bodies, grasses, berries, animals, birds, trees, and crops. The second section is the Lower Pantheon that includes thunders, the sun, the moon, and the stars. The final section is the Upper Pantheon that includes four messages, the wind, leaders, and the creator. These speeches offer a keen insight into the communication means of the Indians in ceremonies, especially through formal oration.
Interethnic communication, especially in relation to the education system of Indians, can be observed in the article, “Cultural differences in teaching styles: A sociolinguistic approach” by Gerald Mohatt, and Frederick Erickson. They examine the reasons why there have been repeated failures of Indian students to perform at par with the non-Indians or even to stay in school. While numerous efforts to change the state of the situation were tried, success has only been observed recently when bilingual education was implemented. The immersion model has had drastic changes in the learning of minority children. The paper, therefore, examines the cultural differences in the way two teachers, an Indian, and a non-Indian organized their classes, and the classroom structure for participation.
There are numerous differences between ethnicities on how people are expected to behave and conduct face to face interactions. Differences have been recorded to exist in how the rural Canadian non-Indians and Indians perceive and conduct social interactions including the things considered polite or impolite and supportive or intrusive. The differences are often subtle in the surface form but are mitigated by similar living arrangements and ways of talking and dressing. Cultural differences are hidden at first glance but become obvious at a closer inspection whereby they emerge in the aspects of social behavior that are hardly recognized consciously such as turn-taking in conversations. Some of such aspects of teacher-student communication include the overall tempo of teaching, the defectiveness of teaching, and the structures used to stimulate speaking in the classroom. There are four participation structures used in schools and at homes, and a cultural incongruence exists between the structures at home and the structures at school. For example, the conception of the role of the adult by Indian children conflicted with how the teacher operated while there was no conflict with the white children. The Indian children met the single individual who regulated the entire group organization for the first time in school leading to confusion. Such cultural differences persist even when the Indian children are speaking English as their society, and family’s participation structures are different from the ones they encounter in the school.
Language, communication, and education
Language, communication, and education among the Indian children in the educational system are a part and parcel of this paper and the research materials provided. The first article for analysis on this issue is the Navajo-ization of Navajo schools where the struggles of the Navajo tribe with educations can be observed especially their attempts to turn the tide of Western values while obtaining western education. The initial interaction of the Navajo with schools was under a treaty with the United States federal government that would provide education for their children. Some immediately realized the value of formal education while others resisted the changes and refused to take their children to school. Eventually, the government compelled all parents to take their children to boarding schools at the threat of imprisonment. The result was a Navajo generation that lacked knowledge regarding their culture, language or even tribal history. However, after the 1960s and 70s, the push for appreciation and recognition of ethnic groups and the government eventually handed over of the Indian education to Indians. To ensure that the schools now teach Navajo values and morals Navajo are currently Navajo-izing their schools with schools such as Dine College, Tsaile campus where the institution communicated Navajo ideology and even gave Navajo precedence over English.
Language is a crucial part of an individual’s identity, position in the social structure, cultural authentic among others, making it crucial to conduct language revitalization projects. While there is a significant language shift to English, Indian languages still remain an indicator for tribal populations. The paper, “English is the dead language: Native Perspective on Bilingualism” argues that all bilingual individuals have attitudes towards languages that they speak. For example, a man may express himself generally in the second language but will express personal emotion or feeling through his first language. Of course, as the indigenous languages keep disappearing the bilingual languages speakers also keep reducing. Interestingly, the Indians often refer to the English language as dead because it lacks imagistic and descriptive characteristics of the native languages. This shows the likely benefits of the revitalization programs of native languages in the schools.
The final article to be explored is by Donna Eder, “Bringing Navajo Storytelling Practices into Schools: The Importance of Maintaining Cultural Integrity.” This article explores two areas; the conceptions of Navajo on preserving the integrity of storytelling in schools and the research process that led up to the finding out of the important concepts of storytelling. Storytelling is a significant part of the Navajo philosophy as a means teaching children the morals, values, and principles necessary for living well. This system operates with the assumption that storytelling has long-term effects, compassionate, is correcting, nourishing, ethical, and with problem-solving capacities.
It is essential that the misleading linguistic stereotypes be dealt stopped or, at least, countered considering their negative portrayal of the Indian communities. This stereotyped portrayal facilities the destructions of the Indian primacy, diversity, and contemporary presence by denigrating and racializing the contemporary Native Americans. In the preparation of an appropriate pedagogy and curriculum for Native Americans, it is essential that such stereotypes are exposed and countered.
The curriculum should also include units or courses that teach the Indian children the Native American linguistic structures and their importance to the community. Equal if not greater value must be placed on the Indians own linguistic structures and their roles in the community as with other course units. This will be essential in building up support and pride in the children on their tribe’s origins and culture. This includes an exploration of rites and rituals of the community as a part of the curriculum such as the Longhouse Iroquois speech events.
It is essential that teachers who are capable and suited to teach the Indian children to be used in the schools to allow and facilitate the education. This is to avoid a conflict of participation structures leading to confusion and lower performance in school compared to their peers. This is even when they Indian children can speak English or any other second language.
Black, Robert A. Hopi Grievance Chants: A Mechanism of Social Control. New York: Foreign Language Study, 1964. Print.
Briggs, Charles L. "Since I Am a Woman, I Will Chastise My Relatives": Gender, Reported Speech, and the (Re)Production of Social Relations in Warao Ritual Wailing." American Ethnologist (1992): 337-361. Online. <http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0094-0496%28199205%2919%3A2%3C337%3A%22IAAWI%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Y>.
De Garcia, Gomez Jule, Melissa Axelrod and Jordan Lachler. English Is the Dead Language. Ney York: OUP, 1999. Print.
Deborah, House. Navajo-ization of Navajo Schools. New York: Deborah House, 2002. Print.
Eder, Donna J. "Bringing Navajo Storytelling Practices into Schools: The Importance of Maintaining Cultural Integrity." Anthropology & Education Quarterly (2007): 278-296. Online.
Forster, Michael K. When words become deeds: An analysis of three Iroquois Longhouse speech events. New York: Centam, 2006. Print.
Meek, Barbra A. "And the Injun goes “How!”: Representations of American Indian English in white public space." Language in Society 35.1 (2006): 93–128. Print.
Mohatt, Gerald V and Frederick Erickson. Cultural Differences in Teachng Styles in an Odaza School: A Sociolinguistic Approach. New York: Deborah House, 2005. Print.