In the United States, the majority of the population is native English speakers, who use a wide range of languages, from Mandarin to Spanish.
But, over the past century, American Indians have been forced to abandon many of their traditional ways of speaking to adapt to the way the language is spoken around the world.
“I feel that they’re trying to take this language away,” said Marielle Cushman, a linguist and anthropologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
As the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports, there are more than 30 million Native Americans living in the United States, and they are at the forefront of a global struggle to preserve their cultural heritage.
But it’s not just indigenous peoples who are facing threats to their language and culture.
A growing number of US states are cracking down on the teaching of American Indian languages.
In recent years, states like Louisiana and Arkansas have banned the teaching or using of Navajo, a language that was adopted by Native Americans as a second language.
In California, a state that has been home to many American Indians, a bill passed in 2018 would prohibit the use of Navajo as a third or fourth language.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NAC) is leading a campaign to defend the rights of the Native American languages and cultures that make up the United States.
‘It’s the language that defines us’The ACLU-Nac says it is critical to understand that, despite the cultural diversity of American Indians and people of colour, the language they speak is “the language that defined us”.
“The American Indian and Native American language is our language.
It’s our language that gave us our identities, our language to say, ‘I am Native American’ and to make our voices heard,” said Claire Roussel, a lawyer with the ACLU-NL who has been working to protect the rights of the Navajo language.
“When you remove that language, you’ve taken away the foundation of that identity, the foundation that gives meaning to the things that we’re trying so hard to do.”
The ACLU is calling on the US government to reclassify Navajo as a separate language, to preserve the indigenous language’s cultural and linguistic diversity, and to encourage its revival in the American American society.
To learn more about the rights and responsibilities of indigenous peoples, read more about indigenous languages and their impact on the United States.
“We’re at a point now where we need to look at the history of Native American peoples and look at what they’re living through,” Roussel said.
“They’re living in a different time, in a new country, in the same world, and in a place where there is not a lot of respect for their language, their culture, and their language.”
If we can’t respect their culture and their languages and the way that they speak, then we can never understand the world and we’ll never change.