Of the 7,000 languages spoken today, almost 40 percent may not be passed on to future generations. When I think of this simple fact, I wonder what might be lost. What stories, prayers, relationships, knowledge, and ways of living would disappear from our planet?
In support of the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, we are excited to share Language Keepers, a six-part multimedia experience created by our initiative Emergence Magazine and produced in partnership with our long-standing grantee partner Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival. Language Keepers follows four Indigenous communities in California—the Karuk, the Tolowa Dee-ni’, the Wukchumni, and the Kawaiisu peoples—and their efforts to revitalize their language and culture.
At Kalliopeia we are proud to say that supporting Indigenous language revitalization has always been a central aspect of our work. We believe it is vitally important to preserve the rich ecological, cultural, and spiritual knowledge held within Native languages. And like the communities portrayed in Language Keepers, Indigenous people throughout California, the United States, and the world are working hard to preserve and revitalize their languages—even when there are few or no speakers left—using sheer creativity and innovation, and with very little support. The urgency of the situation is poignantly described by Loren Bommelyn, the last fluent speaker of Tolowa Dee-ni’, who is working to pass on his language and knowledge to the next generation:
“There are these little coals, and these are what’s left of our languages, these little glowing embers. And what I’ve been trying to do for 40 years is push those little coals into a pile. And that’s how I visualize where our languages are today—that’s how fragile they are.”
We hope Language Keepers can serve as a powerful example of the crucial language revitalization work taking place worldwide. Please join us in sharing these stories of strength and resilience, and help make language revitalization more visible.