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Over the years, the Native American Peoples of the Southwest have been in a struggle, a struggle for their very own existence. Misunderstanding, greed, hatred, lack of compassion and a sense of superiority by the infiltrating people have fueled this struggle. The Native People have been able, at least in part, to hold on to some of their ancestral identity throughout the years while they were murdered, enslaved, lied to, stolen from, put into reservations, and made to feel less than human. They were able to do this because their elders kept the traditions and languages alive throughout this persecution. The elders where able to do this even while their children were being shipped off to boarding schools where they were told that speaking their native tongue was wrong and were disciplined for speaking it (Sheridan and Parezo 1996).
Damon Clark, an elder Native American Hualapai, tells of "What his Hualapai Language Means to Me [Him]," in a paper he wrote. He says that his grandparents raised him and they taught him the language and tradition of the Hualapai people. He would also listen to the conversations that other people had with his grandparents to pick up more Hualapai words. He said that by experimenting with words, even bad words, he was able to become more familiar with the language. He felt the ties to his heritage from the language that he learned from his grandparents and through the close relationships with other older people that knew the Hualapai language (Clarke 2010).
Damon Clarke remembers the time during the Flagstaff Pow-Wows when he could meet with other people from different tribes and be able to speak in his native tongue with them. Now, he says that most people talk, in English, about how their native tongues and cultures are in need of saving. Damon points out that they have lost many of their ways and customs over the past 500 years, after Columbus came to America. He believes that the reason that Native Americans are still here is because of the use of their language. He believes that the Tribal governments need to support and be involved in the push to hold on to the Hualapai ways and their native tongue. He sees that the best way to do this is with technology, education, cultural exchange, and language maintenance (Clarke 2010).
Fortunately, Damon is not alone in his concerns and in his beliefs of what is necessary for the traditions and the language of the Hualapai people to survive. Dawn Stiles states that after years of fighting the insistence of Federal Government to get rid of the native ways and language, in 1975, the Government started the Hualapai bilingual program to help preserve them. This program was started because the language was deteriorating to the point to where it would be lost forever if something was not done to preserve it. At the inception of the program, 45 percent of the Hualapai children spoke mostly in English rather than in Hualapai. This fact, along with the influence of television, other media in English, and the separation of extended family because of governmental housing projects, became further hurtles that the programs' designers had to overcome (Stiles 1997).
Dawn Stiles also says that in order to create a curriculum that could be used to teach the Hualapai language, textbooks would have to be created. The first problem that the program had to address was the fact that the Hualapai language had never been written down, it had always been just a spoken language. Furthermore, most of the elders believed that it was wrong to attempt to write the language on paper. Another problem was that there were many different dialectics of the Hualapai language, and they had to decide what would be the proper one to use. Once these issues were resolved, it took about three years to complete the curricula in the Hualapai language, and by 1981, the Hualapai Bilingual Education Program (HBBEP) was being utilized in the Hualapai school system. (Stiles 1997)
Even though they had the curricula in place, there was still a missing element needed for language maintenance to work. Dawn Stiles tells that some people in the community did not agree with the implementation of the program. As mentioned earlier, people were hesitant about writing down the language, and as Stiles states "â€¦even Hualapai language aide[s] considered the language incapable of abstract ideas required for content embedded subject" (1997). Because most of the parents of the children grew up in schools that taught English only, they were afraid that teaching both Hualapai and English together would confuse the children and make it harder for them to learn. They thought that the frustration they would face because of this approach would cause more children to drop out of school (Stiles 1997).
Fortunately, according to Dawn Stiles, the program supporter did not give up; they were able to convince their skeptics that the program was valuable, and that it would benefit their children. As a result, by 1987, seventy-five percent of parents were not only coming to school functions, they were volunteering to help in the classroom as well (Stiles 1997). Also in 1987, According to the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), "other notable accomplishments," of the HBBEP were the "Development of certified Hualapai teachers, product [ion] of published materials, and improved of student performance." The DHHS also says that "CTBS scores increased from 1975 to 1978 in six of seven grades," and "The authors report significant gains on the reading and language subtests of the California Achievement Test" (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Administration for Children & Families 2010).
According to Dawn Stiles, one of the major contributors to the success of the program was the focus of staff development within the Hualapai tribe and native speakers of the language. They were able to meet twice a week to facilitate their own training and to continue the development of the curricula material. This was accomplished through the cooperation of Northern Arizona University in helping to provide Hualapai teachers a way to earn their certification. The use of summer linguistic programs also helps them to be more prepared to serve their communities' effort to maintain their language (Stiles 1997).
Dawn Stiles says that another supporter critical to the success of this program is the Federal Government; yes, the same ones that created the problem are now helping to stop the loss of the Native American culture through language maintenance. They are the ones that are providing the funding for this project and creating the ultra modern public school system that is now located on the Hualapai reservation. Because the school principle and other certified teachers are all Hualapai tribal members, they help to foster the energy and excitement for learning the Hualapai language (Stiles 1997).
Dawn Stiles says that the Hualapai children are also taught by Hualapai speaking people within the Head Start Program and in their preschool classrooms. This helps to offset the fact that English is heard most other places most of the time. By exposing the children to the Hualapai language early, transition into the bilingual / bicultural program will be much easier. Because of the early success of the program, money from the government has been steady. This money has been used to create groups of Hualapai people that are trained to carry on the program goals. This is essential to the survival of the program should federal dollar be less forthcoming in the future (Stiles 1997).
Mark Fettes quotes Watahomigie and Yamamoto as saying that the "â€¦ programs originators consider one of its most important features to be its commitment to a collaborative model in its everyday work- in planning, in implementation, and so on. Cooperation and collaboration are total, involving bilingual staff, teachers, school administrators, parents, community leaders, district school officials, government officials, and academic professionals." (Watahomigie 1992) (Fettes 1992)
According to Mark Fettes, in 1992 a study by Watahomigie and Yamamoto lead them to believe that the Program:
â€¦has been successful in the reestablishing â€¦ [of] pride in Hualapai language and culture and in developing skills in teaching these materials. The program has also had a very positive influence beyond the Hualapai community by demonstrating to other Indian communities that bilingual/bicultural education programs work for Indiana children. (Watahomigie 1992) (Fettes 1992)
In 1996, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that:
"â€¦lower scores for receptive language were observed for Hualapai children compared to national norms, but scores were similar compared to other AI groups." They also say that verbal reasoning also scored lower, but they think that this is because they do not use English as much, and that more research should be done to see how the Hualapai bilingual education program has affected these test results (1996).
In 2008, Dennis Wagner wrote a story about a group of Hualapai and Yavapai childrens' involvement in an indigenous language immersion course in the Hualapai Mountain County Park. Dennis says that because television, computers, and video games are what the children are interested in, there has been a decline in younger children understanding or speaking the Hualapai language. The hope of the camp was to spark an interest into their native language and culture by involving the children in rituals, like the sunrise chant, and by only speaking the Hualapai language during the entire camp outing. Dennis Wagner also states that, "Today an estimated 40 percent of the 2,100 Hualapai tribal members speak the ancient language, but few of those tribal members are under 18" (Wagner 2008).
As the whole world grows smaller and smaller due to technology and media influence, the future of the Hualapai language and culture are uncertain. A quote from Teresa L. McCarty and Lucille J. Watahomigie sum the situation up best by saying that:
â€¦if indigenous languages are to live in the minds and tongues of future generations, the price, language activist Clay Slate reminds us, is everlasting vigilance. Language reclamation is a social and political process as well as a linguistic and educational one. A good part of the process is building lasting relationships between speakers, families, communities, and schools. The best way to ensure these arrangements will survival is the heart of the challenge: producing a new generation that speaks the native tongue. (McCarty and Watahomigie 1999)