‘How Covid-19 Threatens Native Languages’

“As Covid-19 takes a fearsome toll on our people, it also threatens the progress we have made to save our languages. The average age of our speakers — our treasured elders who have the greatest knowledge and depth of the language — is 70. They are also those who are at most risk of dying from Covid-19.”J. Archambault, The New York Times,Jan. 24, 2021

The husband and wife Jesse (Jay) and Cheryl Taken Alive were buried at a family plot south of Cannon Ball, N.D., overlooking the Missouri River. Credit…Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune, via Getty Images

 

Excerpt: How Covid-19 Threatens Native Languages,  By Jodi Archambault, The New York Times,Jan. 24, 2021

“Over four centuries, nine out of 10 Native Americans perished from war or disease. Now our people are dying from Covid-19 at extraordinarily high rates across the country. North and South Dakota, home to the Lakota reservations, lead the United States for coronavirus rates per capita. We are losing more than friends and family members; we are losing the language spoken by our elders, the lifeblood of our people and the very essence of who we are…In 2020, there were only 230 native Dakota and Lakota speakers on the Standing Rock Reservation. Two hundred and thirty speakers — down from 350 in 2006, according to the tribe’s surveys. There are only a couple of thousand speakers, in total, in the United States and Canada… Before the pandemic, we had been making progress. Cultural warriors young and old had created immersion schools, including on the Standing Rock, Pine Ridge, and Rosebud Reservations. Now we are mourning the loss of instructors who helped revitalize the language at Sitting Bull College — Paulette High Elk, Delores Taken Alive and Richard Ramsey, all of whom died of the virus last year. We celebrate when others recover: Thomas Red Bird, Earl Bullhead.”