Appreciate the importance of language in culture. How does language keep culture alive?
Region: Arctic Class time: 2 class periods
>Language is the essence of culture. People’s ways of living, their histories, and their philosophies are all understood and communicated through language. Although most American Indian people today speak English, they still consider their traditional languages to be extremely important for cultural identity
Photo for puzzle: Eskimo hunter or photo representation of Inupiat culture
Activity: Have one puzzle, divide it up into fourths. Divide students into four groups. No talking. Put the puzzle together within group.
After the activity engage students by asking what it felt like to put the pieces together without being able to talk to one another. If students were able to talk to each other, would it have been easier to figure out which pieces they were missing, who had the missing pieces, and how to work together to put the puzzle (culture) back together? How can we build community if we are forbidden to speak to each other in a relatable fashion?
Introduce lesson about Native American boarding schools. Then discuss as a class. Explain how the puzzle was a metaphor for culture. Thus, by separating the pieces and students and forbidding the ability to speak native language, the boarding schools were trying to assimilate Native Americans into American culture.
- How is your school alike or different from the American Indian boarding schools?
- What do you think life was like for American Indian children at the early boarding schools?
- How would it feel to be separated from your family for four or more years without seeing them?
- Why do you think the government and boarding schools wanted to eliminate American Indian languages and cultures?
- Why do you think they ultimately failed in that effort?
Lesson: When language is taken away it is harder to relate to others and to oneself in a familiar, heartfelt way.
Language is central to cultural identity. It is the code containing the subtleties and secrets of cultural life. In many ways, language determines thought. —W. Richard West, Jr., Southern Cheyenne
Assignment: Write an editorial article and make poster incorporating editorial content. If students feel comfortable, interview an elder in the community. If not, provide resources of documented accounts from those who attended boarding schools.