Choctaw Nation looks to younger generation to help preserve the language

Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 4:56 PM CST
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DURANT, Okla. (KXII) -Wednesday is the last day of November and Native American Heritage month.

So to conclude this month of observation, News 12 sat down with language specialists who share the struggle of keeping the Choctaw language alive.

“This language that we carry is one that has survived for thousands of years,” said Teresa Billy, Choctaw Nation Assistant Director of the Language Department.

And for the Choctaw people, their language is more than just a way to communicate with each other, “connect with their identity, and your identity is a part of your language, it’s a part of who you are,” Billy added.

Billy said many fluent elders have been lost due to age and/or COVID-19.

So the Choctaw Nation has been coming up with ways to pass on the language to the younger generation.

“The one that we’re just really excited about is the apprentice program,” said Billy.

The program is a six to seven hour language class over the course of a year.

“We also encourage them to take whatever they’ve learned and teach it to others and we hope that they even teach it to younger ones,” said Choctaw Language Specialist, Dora Wickson.

The Choctaw Nation provides curriculum to up to 40 high schools in Southeastern Oklahoma, one of them being Durant High School.

“Right now we have about 30 students that are enrolled in those classes,” said Beth Bean, Durant Independent Schools Director of Curriculum and Instruction.

While formal classes are reserved for high schoolers, DIS integrates the language in its primary classrooms too.

“Elementary age from pre-k to about 4th grade, we utilize some Choctaw language for them,” Bean added.

And there’s material to help boost Choctaw language lessons year round.

“The Choctaw Nation also, during their summer school program that’s offered in those ten and a half counties have some language activities and coloring books and things that they provide to their students,” Bean said.

Plus, there’s easy ways parents can incorporate the language at home, “make flashcards, put them on the wall so that you see those flashcards while you’re leaving your house,” Billy added.

To access free Choctaw language lessons, click here.