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LaFayette to teach Onondaga language

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.syracuse.com/articles/news/index.ssf?/base/news-11/1186477462589 50.xml LaFayette to teach Onondaga language Tuesday, August 07, 2007 By Elizabeth
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 7, 2007
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      LaFayette to teach Onondaga language

      Tuesday, August 07, 2007

      By Elizabeth Doran
      Staff writer

      Starting in September, LaFayette schools will for the first time teach the
      Onondaga's native language - Ongwehonwekha - in ninth grade, a critical
      step in the Onondaga Nation's effort to save its native language from
      extinction.

      LaFayette High School will be one of a handful of high schools in the state
      to offer a Native American language class.

      "This is a giant step forward for the kids who can continue learning the
      language, which helps keep it alive," said Danielle Rourke, LaFayette High
      School's Native American liaison who works with Onondaga Nation School
      eighth-graders transitioning to the high school. "You teach it to them when
      they're young and keep working on it because the more you use it, the more
      it's going to stay around."

      The language of the Onondagas was spoken by nearly all the nations'
      residents until the 1930s. It began to die out, though, because some
      Onondagas were ridiculed if they spoke the language at school.

      For some time, children weren't taught the language. Now there is a
      concerted effort among Onondaga leaders to preserve the language among
      their youth.

      Elaina Powless, 13, said she's thrilled she can continue learning the
      language as a freshman. "We're just starting to put together sentences,"
      she said. "Having one more year to learn is great because we're losing our
      language as time goes on. Not enough people are taking the time to learn
      it."

      Until this fall, Ongwehonwekha was taught only through eighth grade at the
      Onondaga Nation School. The class is open to eligible Native students,
      meaning they've passed the Nation School's eighth-grade language
      proficiency exam and have taken three years of language class at the Nation
      School or another Haudenosaunee (pronounced ho-den-oh-SHONE-ee), which
      means people of the longhouse; language school. The students have to take
      another language, as well, to earn a Regents diploma.

      Eventually, the district plans to offer more advanced classes that would
      meet the foreign language requirements for a Regents diploma. First, a
      curriculum and examination meeting state education department guidelines
      would be developed.

      It typically takes about three years to develop a comprehensive language
      exam, said Mary Holmes, associate for foreign language with the state
      education department. Holmes said the state recognizes there might be
      languages important to a particular community and allows curriculums and
      exams to be written locally if no state ones are offered. School districts
      offering the Seneca and Mohawk languages for Regents' credit have developed
      their own exams.

      The proficiency exams don't have to be approved by the state, Holmes said,
      but must meet specific criteria. The state can ask to review the tests at
      any time.

      Experts say Mohawk is the least at-risk native language in New York, but
      all of the Iroquois languages are endangered.

      "Anything we do hopefully will help," said Wendy Gonyea, an Onondaga Nation
      resident whose four children graduated from the Nation School and LaFayette
      High School. "It's really vital that we preserve our language, and this
      sounds like it's needed."

      The full-year one-credit Onondaga language/culture course is being written
      and taught by the three Nation School teachers who currently teach the
      class. The 30-minute class counts toward a student's overall grade point
      average.

      Five students have signed up for the ninth-grade class, said Nation School
      Principal Carol Erb. They will be bused directly to the Nation School each
      morning, then back to the high school.

      Erb said the school has wanted to extend its native language instruction
      for some time. "Before this the kids' formal education in language and
      culture pretty much ended after eighth grade," she said.

      The course also should smooth Nation School students' transition into the
      high school, Erb said. "Continuing to learn their language and culture
      keeps the kids connected, and provides a link back to us," she said.

      Elizabeth Doran can be reached at edoran@... or 470-3012.

      Iroquois languages in school

      Eleven school districts in New York offer courses in Native American
      languages, according to the state education department. Among them are:

      The Salmon River district in Franklin County and Massena district offer
      Mohawk language classes. Salmon River students can earn Regents credit for
      taking Mohawk classes. About 30 students take the Regents each year,
      according to Principal John Simons. Massena is working to get Regents
      credit.

      Salamanca, Gowanda, Lake Shore and Silver Creek school districts in western
      New York offer Seneca language courses for Regents credit. The Akron
      district offers the Seneca language at the elementary school level.

      Tuscarora Elementary in the Niagara-Wheatfield district, north of Niagara
      Falls teaches Tuscarora through sixth grade.

      LaFayette is the only school district to offer Ongwehonwekha, pronounced
      Onway-honway-kah, the language and culture of the Onondagas.

      Stockbridge Valley in Oneida County offers non-Regents Oneida language
      courses.

      Source: Adrian Cooke, acting coordinator of Native American education for
      the New York State Education Department.
      © 2007 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.
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