Tribes from the U.S. and Canada are again calling on government officials to stem pollution flowing from British Columbia coal mines into the international waterways.
Aaron Bolton reports the tribes say lack of action from both countries is harming fish populations.
More than ten tribes issued an open letter calling on the U.S. and Canada to reach an agreement during bilateral talks this week that would stop selenium pollution from B.C. coal mines that’s making its way into Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai and Columbia rivers, all transboundary water bodies.
Last month, President Joe Biden and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the two countries would strike a deal this summer to “reduce and mitigate” selenium pollution.
The tribes are calling for both countries to authorize International Joint Commission involvement.
The IJC settles transboundary water disputes between Canada and the U.S.
Alaska Native language experts shared their personal stories at the State Capitol last week.
They were there to give an update on the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council.
As Rhonda McBride from our flagship station KNBA reports, they also hoped to inspire those at the highest levels of government to support Indigenous languages.
Dr. Walkie Charles told a gathering of lawmakers and their staffers that, at the age of twelve, he was taken away from his home in Emmonak and sent to a boarding school.
He said his mother only spoke the Yup’ik language, or Yugtun, and didn’t understand what happened to him.
“My mother just recently, she died nine years ago, finally told me that every time she heard a plane approaching to our village, that once a week, she was hoping I would be in that plane returning home. But I never did.”
Charles said he was also ripped away from his “heart language” and didn’t reconnect to it until he was in college.
Two years ago, Charles became the first Native director of the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Yayuuk Bernadette Alvanna-Stimpfle, an Inupiaq language leader, recalled what she felt as a child.
“I could remember being a non-English speaker at five years old, making us to sing this song, ‘I’m a little teapot short and stout.’ And in my, in my five-year-old Inupiat mind, (speaking in Inupiaq) I say, ‘I am not a teapot.'”
X’unei Lance Twitchell spoke.
“Alaska for a long time had been on a path of decided elimination of Indigenous languages. Right? There, there was intention, there was purpose, there was a well-orchestrated attack on our peoples.”
X’unei told the group there are 23 Alaska Native languages, and a few of those are no longer spoken.
“We don’t like the word extinct. We prefer dormant, because that we’ve seen languages come back.”
X’unei says, with only 30 fluent speakers of Lingít, it hasn’t been easy to rescue his language, but it is possible.
“So, imagine if you could, if there were 30 speakers of English left in the world, imagine if you could, if the English language went three generations without creating a single new speaker, then imagine if you could, watching a child sit down at a table full of elders, who could then speak to that child. And that child understands them.”
Those elders, X’unei said, had lived through a 70-year gap without hearing any new speakers of their language.
“We didn’t tell her to. She just went and sat with the elders and they were laughing. I could just see the sparkle in their eyes to see a child, who can understand them.”
In his work as head of the Native language program at the University of Alaska Southeast, X’unei has helped to create a new generation of Lingít speakers.
He says those who work at the State Capitol also have an important part to play.
“Everybody who works in this building for the people, that when you walk through those doors every day, maybe you could just give yourself an affirmation. And that affirmation is this: No language dies on my watch. No language dies on my watch.”
Back in 2012, the legislature created the language preservation council that X’unei now chairs.
Oklahoma state lawmakers have approved a bill to allow Native students to wear traditional regalia to graduation.
The bill passed the House this week.
The Oklahoman reports schools in the state have come under scrutiny in recent years for trying to ban students for wearing eagle feathers or other regalia to graduation.
The bill still needs to be signed by the governor.
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