The Arikara language is at a critical stage

Dear Editor,

Presently, among many in the Arikara community, there is a tremendous sense of urgency to insure the survival of the Arikara language. An endangered language that now has only a handful of partial speakers, it is at a critical stage that requires immediate action by tribal members.

Its survival has become the responsibility of a core group of dedicated individuals who must assume leadership positions in a revival effort that requires learning Arikara and passing that knowledge on to younger tribal members.

In March 2008, the American Indian Studies Research Institute (AISRI) hosted the first-ever intensive Arikara language course. It has provided an important cornerstone to the revival of the language. The active Arikara participants were Brad Kroupa, Dancing Eagle Perkins, and Loren Yellow Bird.

The intensive course provided a language environment with concentrated learning through work with second-language teaching materials and presentation, and through peer interaction and practice. It is by this means – a core group learning the Arikara language – that future learning becomes sustainable and younger generations will acquire Native speaker status.

The Arikara participants were instructed by Dr. Douglas Parks and other AISRI staff including Hye-Ryoung (Heidi) Kwon, Indrek Park, and Josh Richards. Dr. Douglas Parks, faculty member of the Anthropology Department at Indiana University and co-director of AISRI, has been working with the Arikara people for over 30 years.

Through Dr. Parks and AISRI, the language has been archived and developed into programs as a learning mechanism. As a user of these multimedia language programs, I can attest to the numerous benefits they provide.

Today, there are no conversational speakers among the Arikara. However, the language had been documented during the 1970s, when the last of the fluent Arikaras were still alive. The multimedia lessons preserve those old Arikara voices, and, although in technological form, allow those elders to teach the generations of today.

The Arikara language situation is urgent and at a critical stage. Its revival is being spearheaded by a small cohort of young Arikara. These individuals live in various locations on-and-off the Fort Berthold Reservation, and in-and-out of North Dakota.

It is a small, but certainly very dedicated, group that is determined to recover both the Arikara language and our cultural traditions. Loren Yellow Bird states, “I would like to see this kind of work continued and supported so other members like us can work on having the Arikara language revived. We’re at a critical stage in our language preservation and it is time for the younger generation to assume this role.”

Cultural and language revival is the only means by which the Arikara will remain an independent entity and a growing component of not only the American Indian landscape, but of the American landscape as well. For this cultural movement to be successful, the younger generation has to put forth an effort, participate, and assume intellectual leadership roles. The challenge for today’s generation is to learn, access, and preserve as much of the old culture as possible.

Brad Kroupa
American Indian Studies
Research Institute
422 N. Indiana Ave.
Bloomington, Indiana 47408