In 2016, the United Nations made this year, 2019, ‘International Year of Indigenous Languages’. The hope was to help revitalize the Native languages that are disappearing more and more as elders that are fluent in these tongues are aging. Even with this proclamation, individual tribes and families have taken the burdening task of saving their language on themselves to guarantee that their children and grandchildren will have the opportunity to access the rich and vibrant culture that connects them to the generations before.
A good portion of the films that were presented at the Native Spirit Fest dealt with the art of languages. It has become a rarity to hear a spoken Indigenous tongue in the medium of film and the lineup this year will warm the heart of Native people everywhere when words from these communities appear along with the imagery from their corresponding cultures.
Voices of Our Nation, directed by Waats’asdiyei or Joe Yates
The first is Voices of Our Ancestors, a look at two Native parents who are determined to teach their daughter, Nayak’aq, their Indigenous languages of Haida and Yup’ik. Though just an infant, both parents continually reiterate their belief in the importance of knowing your Native language, or as dad and director Joe Yates calls it, ‘the heartbeat of the culture’.
This short film only has a twelve-minute runtime but it is efficient at capturing the emotional moments surrounding this language issue, the caring couple who are dedicated to teaching their young daughter the perception and traditions of their communities, and the importance of passing on the fondness of language learning to the newest generation. I would be lying if I said I didn’t shed a couple tears of joy knowing that it just takes one person to change the world, or teach their child how to say the colors of the rainbow in their own Native language.
UmoNhoN Iye: The Omaha Speaking, directed by Brigitte Timmerman
The film opens with a sad reminder that around the time that Columbus arrived in the Americas, there were over 600 Indigenous languages that were alive and flourishing. Now, there is less than 100 and most are on the verge of extinction including the Omaha language of The Omaha Nation, based out of Macy, Nebraska. Each Omaha speaker that Timmerman interviews continually mentions the sacred opportunities of culture the language provides for citizens of their nations.
Most of the participants in the documentary are elders of the Omaha Nation who are active in passing on this vital tool that unlocks the spiritual aspects of the tribe’s traditions. The struggles that each participant has overcome is an example of the strength of the Omaha people which has ultimately their motivation to pass on this wealth of their Native language to their children and grandchildren.