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Great State: Native American Language Fair

NORMAN, OKLAHOMA — A lullaby in Choctaw, a disco song in the Cherokee language.

Another group of students practice a Motown song they’ll sing in Chickasaw.

“This song was pretty easy,” said one young girl. “It had a lot of the same words over and over.”

Over the first two days of April more than 900 Native American language students gathered at the Sam Noble Natural History Museum to share 46 different native tongues.

Museum language curator Dr. Mary Linn started this unique event more than a decade ago as a way to help save these dialects.

“I didn’t want to show that language was something we just put on a shelf,” said Linn. “I wanted to show that languages are living things, that unless there are people using them and speaking them, you don’t even know if you can really call them a language in that way.”

They come from Oklahoma and other surrounding states. School programs, tribal classes, even home schoolers spend two days sharing cultures.

They bring art, film, and their own spoken words, everything but English.

Nicki Gardner won a couple of trophies for her Choctaw art and for a scary bedtime story she learned from her native speaking grandmother.

“It was something about, if I can’t go to sleep something will come and get me. It was a long time ago,” she said.

Through the jumble of old words there is a growing understanding.

These languages live through young people who will pass those words along later in life.

The words are hard but the idea behind saving them is universal.

The Oklahoma Native American Language Fair takes place every April at the Natural History Museum.