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 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.