The Osage Nation’s Language Department kicked off its latest session of classes this month under a restructured system calling for only one night of classes per week at each of its five stations and now offers daily classes to Pawhuska High School students.
Herman “Mogri” Lookout, the department’s director, said changes are being made to the class schedule after an evaluation of the program and its attendance levels and a decision to focus on language fluency.
“All I’m looking for is progress,” Lookout said. “We’re working toward fluency and revitalization is involved with that.”
To accommodate language workers’ workloads, night classes will be offered once weekly instead of two times a week as in previous sessions, Lookout said. The instructors also offer indirect classes and conduct research work on the Osage language to revitalize it.
According to the most recent data provided by the Language Department, 800 Osages took direct (weekly community classes) and indirect (offered to other institutions) classes across the state during the 2007-08 school year. The department offers community language classes at five sites in Pawhuska, Hominy, Fairfax, Skiatook and Edmond.
Like other Native American tribes, the Osage has experienced a decline in its language speakers after coming into contact with non-Natives. Other tribes are taking on efforts to revitalize their languages with the help of non-Native linguists, but not the Osage, Lookout said.
“There’s a difference between white and Indian teachings,” Lookout said. “We’re trying to get back to that Indian way of thinking,” he said of using only his staff to research the history and words of the Osage language. The staff’s language research stretches into archives looking for resources, such as earlier generations of Osages speaking the language.
Lookout said it’s unclear how further research will impact the language. “I don’t know what it looks like, but it’s going to be a big responsibility on my staff.”
Amid the cut in weekly language classes, instructors will still conduct indirect classes to programs such as the Boys and Girls clubs, Headstart, and the high schools with the addition of Pawhuska this school year.
Pawhuska High School began offering Osage as a second language subject when classes resumed for the 2009-10 school year last month. Osage I is offered each afternoon in Pawhuska with Talee Red Corn teaching the class, Lookout said.
Pawhuska High joins Indian Camp Elementary in Pawhuska and Skiatook High School as area institutions offering Osage language courses to its students. The latter two began offering courses in 2007.
Red Corn said there are plans to offer Osage II next school year so the classes mirror those offered at Skiatook High. The Osage News recently visited a session of Osage I in Pawhuska with 15 students in attendance.
Red Corn led the students through a number-counting lesson before testing their knowledge with language drills, which incorporated the 12 lessons studied so far into a trivia-style competition.
“We try to mix it up because we want them to retain the knowledge,” Red Corn said of the student drills. Osage quizzes also help the students generate their ideas fast, he added.
Pawhuska junior Jamison Cass is taking Osage I and said his vocabulary is about 40 words stronger than before the semester started in August. He said he enjoys learning about the language because it’s about “where I am from.”