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HomenewsIndigenousUN Forum Focuses on Language Rights

UN Forum Focuses on Language Rights

Last month, on the first day of the 21st United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York, Indigenous people from every continent (excluding Antarctica) spoke on the importance of preserving and enhancing Native languages. Notably, most of them spoke in the language of their colonizers: English, Spanish, French, and Russian.

“I stand before you today speaking English, because my father used to teach me his Cree dialect,” said Assembly of First Nations national chief RoseAnne Archibald. “Fortunately, my mother insisted on teaching me her dialect, of which I’m still not fluent. The intergenerational trauma from these institutions is evident in today’s adults and children who don’t speak their language fluently.”

Cherokee Nation chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. spoke about the preservation of the Cherokee language. As the leader of one of the largest American Indian tribes in the US, Hoskin has been a vocal advocate for preservation of the Cherokee language. Even before the loss of over 50 fluent Cherokee language speakers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Hoskin was concerned about the potential loss of the Cherokee language.
“The greatest enemy of the Cherokee language right now is the passage of time and the fragility of human lives,” Hoskin said at the UN. “We have no time to lose.”

Hoskin speaks frequently about the cultural identity of Cherokees across the tribe’s 7,000 square miles of tribal lands in Oklahoma and in Cherokee homes. That identity, he says, is fundamentally rooted in the Cherokee language.

Indigenous Taíno people in Puerto Rico also called attention to their situation, which is compounded by their lack of governmental representation. “If we’re not getting visibility or any kind of recognition at the national level, we have no choice but to take it outside and try to build that visibility for our people,” said R. Múkaro Agüeibaná Borrero, president of the United Confederation of Taíno People

Borrero highlighted Taíno language revitalization efforts, which will lead to the publication of the first Classic Taíno dictionary and grammar guide later this year, and warned that the International Decade of Indigenous Languages must not overlook Indigenous Caribbean languages, calling on the Permanent Forum to give special attention to insular Caribbean Indigenous peoples, including those in both self-governing and non-self-governing territories. 

“We’re not only raising the visibility of who we are within the US,” he said. “We’re also raising the visibility of our people for other Indigenous peoples so that we could build that solidarity regionally and internationally.” Indigenous representatives from Arizona, Australia, Bolivia, Canada, Crimea, Finland, Guyana, Mexico, New Zealand, Nepal, and Peru also gave testimony and made recommendations.

Native News Online senior reporter Jenna Kunze reported that “Indigenous languages were described as more than words. They are a birthright, the most direct expression of a culture, carrying the eternal ethical values of our ancestors. If lost, our languages directly impact so many aspects of our lives, including Indigenous community health.”

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