Zach Maxwell
Haileyville teachers Brian Weaver and Louise Mitchell are at the top of their game—instructing high school students to create children’s books in the Choctaw language.

Getting Serious About Choctaw: Haileyville Wins at Language Fair

Zach Maxwell/Choctaw Nation

Brian Weaver and Louise Mitchell have won it anonti—that’s Choctaw for again. The Haileyville High School teachers have led their students to a pair of projects that have earned awards at the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair. Weaver’s class took the blue ribbon for a third time with Opa Yvt Yakni Moma Nitak I Nowa (Owl Visits Day World).

Mitchell’s class wrote and illustrated Okak Iskitini (Little Swan), an adaptation of Cinderella, and it took the second-place statewide prize at the April fair hosted by the Sam Noble Museum Department of Native American Languages.

Their students work with Choctaw language instructor Virginia Espinoza via IETV distance learning. Espinoza is one of many teachers offering Choctaw to high schools throughout the Choctaw Nation via televised distance learning.

“I tell students that by the end of the second semester, they will have to write a story (in Choctaw),” Espinoza said. “Haileyville has been the leader. They are the first ones who wrote a book and drew the pictures. I’m very proud of these classes.”

Between them, Weaver and Mitchell have gathered six awards at the language fair over the last several years. “We’re serious about our Choctaw language,” said Weaver. “I like to do books that involve animals because a lot of stories and legends involve animals. The pictures hook you too, as well as the story.”

His goal is to publish some of the children’s books to pass on the knowledge and effort of his current and former students. Mitchell’s class turned in an illustrated storybook 12 pages in length—and that’s just in Choctaw, not including English translation. “It’s not something you can throw together in a couple of days,” she said. “The girls enjoy it, and they’re talkers so that helps them stay in context. We knew what our theme was and we looked for pictures which could go with it.”

In addition to the book, Mitchell’s class sang in Choctaw at a holiday pageant, choosing Christmas carols as well as “The Star Spangled Banner” translated into Choctaw. The class also performed at the School of Choctaw Language 2013 program finale.

“I’m learning every year. Mr. Weaver talks to me all the time in Choctaw,” Mitchell said. “But I’m retiring in two years and I’ve got to beat him (to first place) before I leave!” Weaver enjoys learning new languages and passing that gift along to his students, both Choctaw and non-Choctaw.

“You see a lot of town names and creek names which you didn’t know before, and now they have meaning,” Weaver said. “I look at Choctaw as a gift. They learn a lot about the culture. It’s been a fun experience.” Weaver’s students this year included Cheyenne Downum, Kensey Davidson, Victoria Cole, Desiree Rhodes, and Kevan Stidmon. Mitchell’s class included Breanna Dalpaos, Shelby Drake, Hailey Gorden, and Megan Rich.

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