Native Language Schools Are Taking Back Education

For more than 150 years, the Wôpanâak language was silent. With no fluent speakers alive, the language of the Mashpee Wampanoag people existed only in historical documents. It was by all measures extinct. But a recently established language school on the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s reservation in Massachusetts is working to bring back the language. The threat of extinction that faces the Wôpanâak language is not uncommon for indigenous languages in the United States. Calculated federal policy, not happenstance, led to the destruction of NativeAmerican languages such as Wôpanâak. But today, Native language schools are working to change that by revitalizing languages that have been threatened with extinction. In the 19th century, federal policy shifted from a policy of extermination and displacement to assimilation.

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