NORMAN, OKLA. – The wealth of Native languages spoken in Oklahoma has long been considered one of the state’s greatest treasures. However, the ongoing loss of fluent speakers continues to impact families, communities and language revitalization efforts across the state, including at the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma.
Sam Noble Museum’s annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair, which has served hundreds of language programs and thousands of students learning Native languages over the past 20 years, has been significantly impacted by these losses.
To help sustain Native languages across the state and the nation, the Sam Noble Museum and the Department of Native American Studies in the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oklahoma have launched a new Native Language Fair Honor Fund.
Established to honor past Native speakers, ancestors, and relatives of the past, present, and future who have worked closely with the language fair, the goal is to continue their legacy by creating a sustainable future for the fair. This fund contributes toward an endowment for the event that will generate consistent and stable funding, enabling the museum to provide students with a venue to share their Native languages and support broader language revitalization across Oklahoma.
Native elders have been a driving force behind the language fair since its inception. From founding members Geneva Navarro (Comanche) and Quinton Roman Nose (Cheyenne), to the hundreds of volunteers who participate annually to judge submissions, the fair would not exist without these dedicated individuals. Sadly, the passage of time and the COVID-19 pandemic have brought devastating losses among Native speakers in tribal communities, and precious knowledge of culture and language has been lost with their passing.
“[It’s] knowledge that absolutely can't be found anywhere else on the earth,” said Jason Salsman of the Muscogee Nation. “I mean, you can scour the globe. And it’s very specific to this area and this culture. So to lose that is devastating.”
At least 14 elders who have been longtime supporters of the language fair have passed away in recent years. Their loss is deeply felt both at the museum and in their communities. The goal is to carry on their legacies and their passion for the preservation of Native cultures and languages through the fair.
To make a contribution to the Native Language Fair Honor Fund, visit the OU Foundation page at give.oufoundation.org/NLFHonorFund.
To honor a specific elder, select “this is an honorary or memorial gift.” Information about the specific individuals honored through the fund will be made available online and at the language fair.
The Sam Noble Museum, the Native American Studies department, and the staff of the language fair would like to thank everyone for their support and contributions which recognize Native American speakers and learners of all generations. We look forward to gathering in their honor for the language fair again this April.
The Sam Noble Museum is the officially designated natural history museum for the state of Oklahoma and is located on the University of Oklahoma Norman campus at 2401 Chautauqua Ave.