Many Native Languages Are Dying Off But Here’s How Indigenous Millennials Are Using Tech To Save Them
The Americas are one of the most linguistically diverse regions in the world. In fact, in Mexico alone there are 68 different Native languages spoken. But many of those Native speakers point out that this diversity and cultural richness is under threat.
At a recent speech in Mexico’s House of Deputies, Doraly Velasco León, speaking in her native Pápago, spoke about the difficulties of preserving the language of her ancestral land, which has been divided by the border between Mexico and the United States.
“Only eight speakers [of pápago] remain, including the one addressing you today . . . Our language is in its death throes, but not our world view or our historical memory, because we have left perennial footprints in our path along those lands that sustain our lives, in our songs and traditions.”
She denounced the extinction of her native tongue, charging that it was not a natural occurrence, but rather the result of borders and walls that divide the lands she and her people call home. Her and other tech-savvy Millennials – from Canada to Brazil – are working hard to preserve their heritage and traditions through apps and technology partnerships.
Tech-savvy Millennials are fighting to preserve their culture and language.
Across the Americas, Indigenous languages are disappearing at alarming rates. For example, in Canada’s British Columbia, the majority of Native languages are already at risk of total extinction.
Many experts and human rights activists agree that Indigenous communities are facing a cultural epidemic, one that is leaving Millennials scrambling to save their endangered heritage.
Across several Canadian First Nations, tech-savvy Millennials have helped to set up organizations that aim to increase access to technology for Indigenous communities. Many point out that technology and the Internet are colonized spaces that have more information created about Native tribes than content that’s actually created by Indigenous communities.
Denise Williams, the First Nations Technology Council executive director, believes that Indigenous people have already used the limited tech tools available to embrace progress and independence—on their own terms. “It’s really important that Indigenous people lead our technological progress, and that it’s never the current dominant paradigm shaping how we will use the technological tools available,” she told VICE News.
Goozih as well as other technological initiatives driven by Indigenous millennials aren’t just practical solutions. In fact, they’re catalysts for cultural empowerment.
The app’s co-founder admits that they’re not exactly knowledgeable on how to formally teach their languages but that the mere existence of the app will be a huge catalyst to get people to connect with their elders.
Thanks to colonialism, there are many roadblocks stopping some Indigenous people from embracing technology.
For many Indigenous people, technology is viewed as a symbol of colonialism and forced oppression – so it carries with it a very negative connotation.
Williams points out to VICE News that Indigenous memories of colonialism may bar them from embracing modern technology. “One of the original ways contemporary technology was introduced to First Nations communities across Canada was by the federal government,” she explains.
Even today, she says, the First Nations Technology Council faces resistance from some community members who view tech as a symbol of colonial oppression.
For many, the process is a very emotional one as they rush to save traditions.
One of fewer than 500 speakers of Kumeeyaay, Norma Alicia Meza Calles said that a lack of attention from the government has played a role in the death of her language.
“We aren’t folklore. We are a form of life that needs to be treated with respect. We are those who take care of our environment . . . at times confronting the same government that grants permits without taking us into account,” she said in an interview.
“Public services are not part of our lives, but we still defend our lands . . . from people who have no love for their heritage. The hills, the trees, the animals are our brothers and we take care of them.”
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