Taking away issues of political sovereignty, economic development, and all other issues that seem to dominate the outsiders notion of challenges facing Native communities; the loss of Native languages is a spreading cancer plaguing nearly all Tribes.
Most tribes can find the health of their Native language in their community as being: at risk, on the verge of extinction, or completely gone. Only a handful of tribes have completely healthy languages that are still being learned by children as their first language. Unfortunately however, for most tribes the norm is found in the following: parents and older can speak fluently, only elders can speak fluently, or only a few members can speak or even remember the language.
The state of crisis that many communities find themselves in is reflective of a long history of the attempted assimilation and destruction of Native people and their cultures by colonial forces. As our elders and parents grow older, those people who hold the knowledge that is essential to our communities are slowly dwindling in numbers. What happens if our language is lost? When the life sustaining thread that informs us of who we are as our respective People is no longer there? Language holds the knowledge that binds us to generations past. Knowledge that has sustained our communities since time immemorial. Language is the thread that ties Native communities to their history, their identity, their culture, their actions, their world, them. If that is gone, what is left? An empty shell of a community where we go through the actions without knowing why we do what we do or say what we say? I could get lost in the swirl of questions raised by such a tragic event. Unfortunately, for many communities that nightmare is a reality, or a very near one at the least.
Fortunately, many Native communities are waking up from this nightmare; taking the on the challenge of saving their languages. My brother Jonathan Sims is creating a documentary about this struggle. His film entitled A Race Against Time documents the efforts of New Mexico's tribes in revitalizing their languages. Taking on this challenge will be the responsibility of this generation of Indigenous people. It is a fight that I hope we can win. A fight we have to win.
Check out the trailer here and my brother's other work:
A Race Against Time
by Jonathan Sims- No Reservations Productions