The Rutu Foundation is committed to supporting quality education for Indigenous Peoples. As part of our series on Distance Learning for Multilingual Learners, we created a list of Digital Language Resources for Indigenous Peoples which can assist the preservation of Indigenous languages and raise awareness as to the threats that indigenous peoples are facing, a situation compounded by the COVID-19 crisis.
The loss of Indigenous languages has been the subject of increasing concern. The UN General Assembly declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages; and the International Decade of Indigenous Languages will begin in 2022. Among the 7,000 spoken languages, at least 43% are endangered. The majority of these are indigenous languages. UNESCO estimates that by the end of this century 3,000 indigenous languages will have disappeared. Languages are the vehicle of communication, and their loss has inevitable and irreversible consequences for cultural, historical and identity heritage, globally. Losing a language also means losing traditions, knowledge and customs. This is what many Indigenous Peoples are experiencing.
Revitalizing Indigenous Peoples’ Languages
Respecting, preserving and revitalizing Indigenous Languages are part of Indigenous Peoples’ fundamental rights. For this reason, policies to guarantee these rights must be implemented internationally. However, Indigenous rights are threatened and violated by governments all around the world and Indigenous Peoples face persistent discrimination. The lack of protection of their rights and of policies to empower and safeguard their linguistic and cultural heritage also have crucial consequences for life on the planet. Indigenous Peoples’ traditional knowledge is also an essential resource for the preservation of our ecosystems and for the fight against climate change.
The greatest challenges to the revitalization and intergenerational transfer of Indigenous Languages lie in education. Indigenous Peoples have the right to quality education; they also have the right to be educated in their own languages and to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Articles 11 and 14). However, most (state-led) schools reflect urban, western lifestyles and values, excluding and perceiving Indigenous language and knowledge as regressive and illegitimate. As a result, children are often discouraged from speaking their language and indigenous concepts, histories and cosmo-visions are excluded from school curricula.
COVID-19 and the impact on Indigenous language learning
As underlined by the UN, COVID-19 has made this situation even more critical for Indigenous Peoples. In many cases, Indigenous Peoples lack adequate support and access to healthcare. Efforts to protect indigenous communities are suffering from a lack of information about the virus and prevention measures in indigenous languages. This situation is even worse for Elders, the most at-risk group. Their role is key for keeping and transmitting Indigenous heritage, and their passing will have a crucial impact on its preservation. Furthermore, for many indigenous learners, quality distance learning or internet connections are not available. All this results in a deep education crisis for many Indigenous Peoples.
The lists below provide online resources and apps that can be used to start or continue indigenous language learning. You can also find a section on information about COVID-19 in indigenous languages. Feel free to share these with your network.
To gain a deeper understanding of Indigenous language loss, we recommend the following videos:
- Why Indigenous Languages Matter and What We Can Do to Save Them, by Lindsay Morcom describing the endangered situation of many indigenous languages, the reasons why they are at risk, and their repression by residential schools in Australia.
- He pūkoʻa kani ʻāina: Creating Pathways for Indigenous Language Vitality, by Candace Galla on TEDxJIBC. The speaker tells the story of indigenous languages in Hawaii, from their repression to movements for revitalization.
Other resources curated by the Rutu Foundation for multilingual learners can be found here: