Tuesday, December 15, 2015

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Osages approve language immersion

Come August, a few more area children are going to be exposed to a second language.
As the last vote of the seventh special session Friday, the Fourth Osage Congress approved an additional $195,896 appropriation to the tribe’s Division of Education and Early Childhood Services to fund an Osage immersion language nest in Pawhuska for children five years old and younger.
“I was raised by a full-blooded Osage grandmother who spoke Osage first, English second,” Congresswoman Alice Buffalohead said. “She didn’t learn to speak English until she was five years old. We know the teachers … are going to do a great job and make this immersion program happen, as we hear more and more people speaking Osage in the last 10 years.”
Buffalohead, along with Angela Pratt, RJ Walker, Archie Mason, John Maker and Otto Hamilton voted in favor of the bill, which was signed by Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear on Monday.
Among the five members of Congress who voted against the proposal, several made it explicitly clear that while they support the idea of an immersion program and efforts to preserve the language, they could not overlook the tribe’s tight finances. During the fall 2014 session, the legislature had to cut division budgets by 6 percent across the board in order to make up a multi-million dollar shortfall. The new immersion program will be funded for the remainder of fiscal year 2015 in part by cuts to three other services under the education division, including career and vocational scholarships.
“It is very difficult for me to come up here and explain why I’m going to vote one way or the other,” Congressman James Norris said. “I do support our language and the way we’re going to teach our children and others how to preserve our language. It’s difficult when you’re trying to be budget conscious though.
“I totally support our language program and preserving our language. However, unfortunately, I cannot support this piece of legislation right now. It’s very difficult for me…but because of the dollars and cents attached to it, I’m voting no.”
Norris, Speaker Maria Whitehorn, William “Kugee” Supernaw, John Jech and Ron Shaw all voted against the legislation.
Congresswoman Shannon Edwards was absent.
Along with funding competitive pay to bring in more teachers to make the program work, the additional appropriation allows the creation of a new position to oversee and coordinate the immersion program and its accompanying logistics, such as facilities, finances, communication and potentially growing the site to incorporate elementary grades in the future.
The language nest program, open to children as young as six weeks old, would incorporate both the Osage language and cultural aspects using elements of an established mainstream curriculum and one developed by the tribe’s language department. The Cochiti Pueblo, based near Albuquerque, uses a similar concept at its day care.
Run in concert with the tribe’s already existing early childhood program in Pawhuska, additional participation will be expected from parents who enroll their children in the language nest. Along with a registration form, plans call for parents to have a class one night per week, plus one Saturday per month in order to encourage their child’s language retention.
“Here we are in 2015, we are developing an immersion curriculum but in 1915, it wasn’t necessary,” Mason said. “Our parents and grandparents all lived it and some of us heard it growing up. We didn’t have to have a school, but that’s what we’re doing today. That’s the difference a generation makes as we try to figure out how to capture and retain our language.”
As of Friday, no policies are in place to restrict enrollment to only Osage children or employment to only Osage Nation citizens.

by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

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