The Seneca Nation of Indians is in the middle of a push to save their language.

Language Is Key to Culture: Seneca Fight to Save Theirs


In the three Seneca territories in Western New York there are just 30 elders who speak the language fluently—10 years ago there were 200 fluent speakers, reports WGRZ.

The Seneca Nation of Indians is trying to change that and save their language starting with the youth. Kids attending Faith Keepers School in Steamburg, New York, learn about Seneca tradition, culture and are taught the language through activities. During varsity and junior varsity lacrosse games in Gowanda, you’ll hear the games being announced in Seneca by eighth grade students. According to WGRZ, they are the first school in Western New York to announce games like that.

There’s a bigger push to preserve the language because our elders are dying,” teacher Rachael Wolfe told WGRZ. “It’s urgent... We’re at an emergency status as far as our language is concerned.”

Norma Kennedy, 85, is one of the elders who still speaks the language. “I was immersed in it. My mother and father spoke the language. Everyone in the neighborhood spoke Seneca so it was easy for me to pick it up.”

But Kennedy also remembers attending a one-room school house where Native American children were disciplined for speaking their language. Kennedy is working with the adult language class to pass on her knowledge of the language and keep it alive.

Students can study the Seneca language and earn a second language credit at Gowanda and Salamanca.

Technology is being utilized to preserve the language as well—a written version is being catalogued. Robbie Jimerson, who graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology and lives on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation, is developing a user-friendly computer catalog so future generations can study and speak the language.

“It’s an online dictionary. So you’ll be able to put in an English word and it will give you the Seneca translation for it,” he told WGRZ.

Saving the language is important to preserving the culture as well. “The main portion of our culture is language and if we don’t have language, we really don’t a have a culture,” Seneca language teacher Jacky Yallup told WGRZ. “We can’t carry on our ceremonies, we can’t carry on daily living without our language.”

See the full story and video at WGRZ.com.

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