Without their native tongue, Utes fear for loss of souls

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Without their native tongue, Utes fear for loss of souls

Language Q&A with Ernest House, Jr.

After a recent Ute language conference, The Cortez Journal asked Ernest House Jr., a Ute Mountain Ute member and executive director of Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, a number of questions related to the preservation of his tribal language.
QUESTION: Are you fluent in the Ute language?
ANSWER: No, I am not a fluent speaker, but I’m trying to learn.
QUESTION: Do you speak Ute at home? Why or why not?
ANSWER: I try to speak Ute at home to my kids or use specific words, names or phrases for them to recognize and remember.
QUESTION: What is your reaction to the language’s possible extinction?
ANSWER: I am not surprised about the possibility of extinction. It’s one of many issues our tribal leaders face today. Many indigenous languages are being lost, which has pushed tribal nations to reconsider how they re-engage and re-educate their communities, especially the younger generation on new ways to learn the language.
QUESTION: Why is preserving the language important and/or necessary?
ANSWER: It’s very important, because in many ways, that is a big part of our way of life. Like many tribal nations, Ute stories, history and traditions are based off oral communication. When we lose that interpretation, we lose a piece of history and culture.
QUESTION: What if any funding and/or support does the state offer for Ute language instruction?
ANSWER: Unfortunately, the state doesn’t offer much regarding Ute language instruction today. We did introduce and successfully pass legislation (SB12-057 Indigenous Language Instruction) a few years ago at the request of the Ute Tribes. The bill created a teacher authorization for indigenous language instruction and allows school district boards to grant general credit to a student after successful completion of indigenous language course work.
QUESTION: Should the Ute reservations follow the Navajo lead and require elected leaders to speak the language? Why or Why not?
ANSWER: I believe any determination about tribal language requirements are something that should be discussed and determined by the tribal members and their communities. As we saw with the recent Navajo Nation language requirement debate, our tribal laws often reflect a historical time frame. Those laws should be reviewed from time-to-time to see if they apply to our communities and people today, and through that discussion, additional ways and new initiatives can and should be discussed regarding language preservation.
QUESTION: In your opinion, what is the best way to preserve the Ute language?
ANSWER: I believe we need to reach out to our communities, especially our young people, to let us know how best to move forward. Many tribes have explored new ways of language preservation, and coordinating gatherings and conferences like the one recently held are great ways to engage discussion, continue the conversation and raise awareness.
tbaker@cortezjournal.com

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