History and Goals

The Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair began in April 2003 at the Sam Noble Museum. Elder and teacher Geneva Navarro (Comanche), Indian educator Quinton Roman Nose (Cheyenne), and the museum's first Native American Languages curator, Mary Linn, wanted a way to recognize the Native language teachers and students in the state. Native communities have always valued oratory skills, and we wanted to provide a venue for youth to use their Native languages publically. In addition, we wanted to make the public aware that the Native languages of Oklahoma are living languages. Our first Fair attracted almost 200 students and teachers with spoken language performance, song with dance, and poster art categories. Now, the Fair is two days and has grown by six categories to keep up with the many new ways that youth are using their Native languages today.

While many of our original goals are the same, they have grown as the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair has grown. We feel that the Fair supports individual and community goals in language maintenance, revitalization, and renewal in these ways:

  • Excellence in language teaching: In preparing for the Fair, students and teachers have concrete goals to work toward in their language classes. In addition, the Fair provides students and teachers with peer support and new ideas for language learning. The languages have new life with new speakers.
  • Creating better students: Multiple educational studies show that students in Native language programs perform as well as or better than their peers on academically rigorous tasks.
  • Instilling pride: Educational studies show that children in Native language programs have higher self-esteem and cultural pride, and ultimately have stronger relationships with adults and their communities.
  • Creating a Community of Speakers: The Fair introduces students to a community of language learners and speakers like themselves. Turning back years of shame associated with language use, the Fair helps give prestige and prominence to the learning and speaking of Native languages.
  • Culturally appropriate assessment: Public speaking has always been a highly-regarded part of Native life. The Fair creates a safe and supportive environment for students to use their languages and receive feedback.
  • Support of Literacy and the Arts: The Fair underscores the value of written and oral literacy, and helps to produce the next generation of writers, storytellers and artists in Native communities.
  • Transition to higher education: The Fair brings Native students into the museum and the University of Oklahoma, many for the first time, and welcomes them into an academic environment.
  • Public awareness: The Fair increases the public’s awareness of language diversity and its contribution to Oklahoma’s rich cultural heritage.

What they have to say...

Here are some comment from email and our Facebook page about the Fair:

Our children at the CN [Cherokee Nation] Immersion program have so much fun every year when they participate at your event. ONAYLF has been so far the only place outside the school that offers our kids a place where they can practice their language in a public setting. I will not exaggerate if I say that ONAYLF is a "language highlight of the year!"
—Andrew Sikora, parent

When one remembers the young in the manner in which you all did, my elders told me that person or those people will see long life and enjoy life as well. I trust that to be your blessing(s)… many thanks...kche migwech
—Donald Perot, Potawatomi elder and speaker

My kids [Choctaw and Kiowa] are always excited about April because of the Fair.
—Cedric Sunray, MOWA Band Choctaw parent

Glad to be volunteering both days at this year's Language Fair next week. Seeing all our little ones speaking and singing our language lifts my spirit and challenges me to learn more about my language and to pass it on!
—Sue Fish, Choctaw/Chickasaw volunteer

Wow… I remember participating in the language fair back in 2006 with St. Anthony Indian School all the way from Zuni, NM. It was awesome! We placed first in the song and dance category. We sang the Dragonfly Song in our language.
—Elanna Lesansee, former participant