In the course of the history of the Prairie Band Potawatomi, language and culture has degenerated to a highly critical state of being. This means that there are less than ten remaining fluent speakers nationwide, many who are isolated within their own community. The language is being used less and less frequently, or not at all. Due to time constraints and budgeting, the tribal members are not becoming speakers of the language and are being taught only words and phrases. There are some adults who can understand the language but are not fluent speakers. The language of the Potawatomi is from the Algonquin rootstock. At one time the Ojibwa, Odawa, and Potawatomi were one nation. Throughout time, these three split apart and became their own nations. Currently in the nine bands of Potawatomi, there remain fewer than 25 speakers. The Potawatomi language will become extinct in less than a decade if members don’t start acquiring and using it daily toward a goal of becoming fluent. Once the language is gone, the Potawatomi people will lose their cultural identity.
Children in the Language Program.
The Prairie Band Potawatomi Language and Cultural Department saw the need to create a plan for the revitalization of the Potawatomi language and culture. It was necessary for a group of Department staff and community members to identify key areas and prioritize them, which then evolved into a strategic plan. With limited resources, it is the intent that the work can be organized in the most efficient manner to fulfill the goals and objectives. The main goal is to revitalize the language and culture so the Prairie Band Potawatomi people will remain strong in their own self-identity.
The Prairie Band Potawatomi Language and Culture Department is dedicated to the revitalization effort of “The People.” Since 2007 language classes have been offered through a series of sessions that are dedicated to teaching the language and cultural ways to adults and families. The classes are partially funded by a grant from the Administration for Native Americans(ANA) and are held in the PBPN Language/Cultural Department located in the basement of the Firekeepers Elder Center and at the Language House, a former residence located on 158th Road on the Reservation.
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The Language Department has acquired a Phraselator that converts spoken words into Potawatomi by computer. Through training from the developer, the staff has learned how to use the equipment. The Language team completed the training and are utilizing the Phraselator teaching tool in their daily activities in the revitalization of the Potawatomi Language.
What does one do when their language is on the verge of dying? The Language and Cultural Department are always looking for new ways that the language can be shared with the Potawatomi Nation. First there were booklets with cassette tapes then CDs and even a DVD but now there is the Phraselator.
This device was developed originally to assist the soldiers in combat to communicate with various foreign languages. Thornton Media, Inc., through much negotiation with the Federal Government, was able to carry the contract for this device to better serve Native Language learners. With assistance from the Federal Government, the Phraselator was reconfigured for Native Language users.
Today you can use this tool to write English phrases into the data bank and then record your fluent speakers using those phrases and words. In addition, you can record stories, short videos and songs. It is a very handy way to have language at the tips of your fingers. In the past, if phrases were not recorded onto a CD by each phrase being a single track, then you had to take time to look for the phrase or else listen to a section to hear the phrase you were looking for. With the Phraselator, you have quick access to the phrase either by speaking it in English (voice command) or toggling it on the view screen.
This device has the possibility of reaching a wider audience of language learners when the Nation is able to purchase more. Feel free to contact the Department if you want to find out more about this or drop by and visit us to see how the Phraselator works.Back to Current Projects