October 17, 2008

School Teaches Near-Lost Arapaho Language

The 200 remaining speakers of the American Indian Arapaho language said a school in Wyoming to teach the tongue to youngsters currently has about 22 students.

Tribal leaders at the Wind River Reservation said there are 8,791 members of their Northern Arapaho tribe, but only 200 fluently speak the native tongue and none are under the age of 55, The New York Times reported Friday.

Alvena Oldman, 69, said teachers at federally funded schools on the reservation used to discourage use of the Arapaho language.

"We were afraid to speak it," she said. "We knew we would be punished."

The tribe hired Ryan Wilson, a National Indian Education Association board member, as a consultant to help establish the Arapaho school.

"This is a race against the clock, and we're in the 59th minute of the last hour," Wilson said.

He said the school currently has about 22 students ranging from pre-kindergarten to first grade. He said the school plans to add another grade each year until it's a complete K-12 institution.