Osage language students at Woodland High School are learning Inlonshka terms ahead of the Pawhuska dances, which take place in October this year.
On Sept. 26, the students are listening to their language teacher Tracey Moore as she teaches them the names of the positions of the Inlonshka, foods and greetings. Moore, Grayhorse District, asks the students to stand and introduce themselves. One by one, they each stand and state their name, district, Osage name and clan.
Chase Bowman, a junior, went first: “𐒹𐓘𐓷𐓟 𐓈𐓘𐓡𐓟 Chase. 𐓏𐓘𐓻𐓘𐓻𐓟 𐓘𐓜𐓣͘ 𐓄𐓘𐓮𐓶𐓧𐓣͘ 𐓨𐓣͘𐓤𐓯𐓟. 𐓁𐓪𐓻𐓶 𐓊𐓟 𐒻 𐓏𐓘𐓻𐓘𐓻𐓟 𐓓𐓘𐓻𐓟 𐓨𐓣͘𐓤𐓯𐓟. 𐓊𐓟 𐓁𐓣𐓤𐓘𐓻𐓣 𐓈𐓘𐓷𐓘𐓧𐓘 𐓘𐓜𐓣͘ 𐓨𐓣͘𐓤𐓯𐓟.”
Translation: Hello, how are you, I’m Chase. I am Osage from the Grayhorse District. My Osage name is 𐓁𐓪𐓻𐓶 𐓊𐓟 𐒻. My clan is 𐓊𐓟 𐓁𐓣𐓤𐓘𐓻𐓣.
When asked why they wanted to take the Osage language for their World Language credit instead of languages like Spanish or French, Aaron Watts said, “Because it’s our Osage culture and we want to carry it on.” Watts is a junior and from the Grayhorse District.
Bowman and Watts are just two of many students on the reservation taking Osage language courses at their high schools to graduate. Last month, headlines were made when Bartlesville High School announced it would offer the Osage language as a world language credit for the first time. Bartlesville is outside the Osage reservation boundaries and the course will be taught by Corey Maker.
Maker is Osage, Hominy District, and interned with the Osage Nation Language Department (ONLD) in 2018 but is not currently employed by the ONLD. However, the ONLD has a program to certify teachers in the Osage language and Maker achieved that certification to teach at Bartlesville.
The ONLD has been teaching Osage language classes in area high schools on the reservation since 2009. They base their curriculum on the World Language Standards set by the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
The first high school on the reservation to offer an Osage language class was Pawhuska High School and it was taught by Osage Minerals Councilman Talee Redcorn. The PHS Assistant Principal at the time, Martin Parks, dedicated a plaque with the names of the first 12 students in commemoration. The students were Norris Allred, Christen Ballard, Charlsie Cunningham, Josephine Horsechief, Jessica Hutson, Joseph Pratt, Trey Rulo, Jeremie Tuller, Michaela White, Dora Williams, Jamison Cass and Robynn Rulo.
High schools that currently include Osage I and Osage II as World Language credits for graduation are Woodland, Pawhuska, Hominy High School, Skiatook High School and now Bartlesville High School.
On Sept. 27 at Hominy High School, Cherylyn Satepauhoodle, Hominy District, instructed her students to write Osage phrases on the dry erase board. One by one the students wrote the phrases, and it was business as usual. But then, Satepauhoodle announced they were going to play a game and the students’ eyes lit up. They jumped up from their chairs and began excitedly picking teams. It’s obvious they’ve played the game before because there was some significant bartering over Ryan Shadlow.
The teams formed two lines and as Satepauhoodle called out the Osage word, the first two students ran to the board to write the first letter of the word in the Osage orthography. They ran back to hand off the dry erase marker and it was a relay – which team could spell the Osage word the fastest. It was fun watching the students as they excitedly yelled out sounds to help their teammates with the orthography and they jumped up and down when they were winning, or when they were losing. Shadlow’s team won.
It’s Satepauhoodle’s first year to teach at the high school level. Prior to her job with the ONLD she worked at the Nation’s Wahzhazhe Early Learning Academies, speaking Osage to infants and toddlers. When the opportunity came for her to become a certified Osage Language teacher, she took it. Satepauhoodle also teaches Osage II at Skiatook High School.
“I did not have this opportunity when I was in high school ten years ago. You can bet that I would have taken Osage Language as a World Language credit if I had the option. I am so glad that more schools are offering Osage Language because these schools are right in the heart of the Osage Reservation,” Satepauhoodle said. “It gives the students a chance to know what other cultures are right here in front of them.
“The most rewarding experience I’ve had so far is when I attended a football scrimmage the other week and one of my students came up to me and said ‘ha-we.’ That is my goal. To have these students use the language outside of the classroom and in their everyday lives.”
It’s Dana Daylight’s fourth year teaching Osage I and II at Pawhuska High School. In total she has 22 students this year, with most of her students being Osage tribal members but not all. Daylight, Pawhuska District, also has students from other tribes and non-Natives as well. In fact, one of her students last year, Emma McKibben, who is the Quapaw Nation’s princess, won the grand prize at the annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair with her poster about familial relationships using the Osage orthography.
On Aug. 29, in her Osage II class the students are filling out worksheets and writing down sentences. The classroom is so quiet you can almost hear the students concentrating. On the walls are photos of Inlonshka and colorful scenes painted from Osage life.
“Every year teaching gets better and better. I love seeing my students use our Osage language, not just in the classroom but also outside of the classroom. I love hearing from my students’ families about how they are taking the Osage language home and sharing their knowledge,” Daylight said. “Their parents and guardians tell me how my students are also teaching their other family members what they have learned. To me they are bringing back our old way of teaching through our oral traditions. Being able to bring those connections back and stimulate those conversations at home is one of the most rewarding to me.
“In the beginning the obstacle was getting everyone to understand this class was not an elective but a core class requirement for graduation.”
At the end of each school year, Daylight gives out awards to her students.
Moore has been teaching Osage language classes at Woodland High School since 2015, but it wasn’t until 2017 that it became a World Language core class, thanks to Woodland School Board member John Watts. Since that time, she has had 23 students in total.
Over the years she has faced challenges but working closely with the WHS counselor Missy Keeler and having the support of the ONLD has made it possible.
“The most rewarding experience is knowing my students come from prominent Grayhorse families. I can share stories about them, share culture, Inlonshka committee, and teach them 𐓏𐓘𐓡𐓪̄,” Moore said. “This year we worked on Osage history, where we originated from, creation story. I explained to them you can go to college and learn about who you are from their books but learning from our elders, teachers, you can also share your knowledge and be proud of who you are.
“Some students are on committee, and I try to teach them to pray at functions. Hearing them pray in Osage has been very rewarding and promising.”
Oklahoma’s Endangered Languages
It’s been well documented that due to European settlement, removal, the boarding school era, assimilation and for Osages, the Reign of Terror – these factors have all played a role in eroding Indigenous language and culture from North America over the past 200 years.
According to the Endangered Languages Project (ELP), there are 167 languages in the United States that are currently endangered. Many of those languages are federally recognized tribes. Out of Oklahoma’s 38 federally recognized tribes, 17 tribes’ languages were listed, including the Osage.
The Cherokee Nation is listed as “Threatened” and is undoubtedly one of the most robust language programs in the state, if not the country. According to a 2019 ELP study, the Cherokee has about 2,100 speakers left worldwide, and they come from their three federally recognized tribes, the Cherokee Nation, the United Keetoowah Band of Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina. While the Cherokee’s numbers are still much higher than that of the Osage, they took a hit in speakers. According to the ELP’s numbers from 2007, the Cherokee had approximately 11,000 speakers worldwide, showing that in a span of 12 years, they lost over 7,000 speakers.
The Cherokee have several exemplary language initiatives including the Cherokee Immersion School, Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program, a Teacher Bridge Program, Cherokee Language Teacher Training Scholarship Program, Sequoyah High School Language Immersion After-School Program and community and employee classes. Courses are also taught at the collegiate level at the University of Oklahoma and Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
Below is gathered information from the 2019 ELP study and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Osage News compiled information pertaining to the 17 Oklahoma tribes listed on the ELP’s Endangered list. Almost all the following tribes have language programs or language resources available to their members.
Caddo Nation – classified as Critically endangered with less than 30 Native speakers worldwide.
Cherokee Nation – classified as Threatened with less than 2,100 Native speakers worldwide.
Chickasaw Nation – classified as Endangered with less than 600 Native speakers worldwide.
Choctaw Nation – classified as Vulnerable with less than 11,000 Native speakers worldwide.
Citizen Potawatomi Nation – classified as Severely endangered with less than 50 Native speakers worldwide. This includes the Hannahville Indian Community, the Pokagon and Huron Bands, the Forest County Band and the Prairie Band.
Comanche Nation – classified as Severely endangered with less than 100 Native speakers worldwide.
Kaw Nation – classified as Awakening with less than 20 Native speakers worldwide.
Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma – classified as Threatened with less than 1,100 Native speakers worldwide.
Kiowa Tribe – classified as Critically endangered with less than 100 Native speakers worldwide.
Miami Tribe of Oklahoma – classified as Awakening with no first-language speakers.
The Muscogee Nation – classified as Severely endangered with less than 4,200 Native speakers worldwide. The Euchee (Yuchi) Tribe of Oklahoma is currently considered to be a division of the Muscogee. Their language is classified as Critically endangered with less than 7 Native speakers worldwide.
Pawnee Nation – classified as Critically endangered with less than 10 Native speakers worldwide.
Quapaw Nation – classified as Awakening with no first-language speakers.
Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma – classified as Severely endangered with less than 100 Native speakers worldwide.
Wichita and Affiliated Tribes – classified as Severely endangered with less than 10 Native speakers worldwide.
Osage Nation – classified as Awakening with no first-language speakers.
Lucille Roubedeaux was the last Osage citizen whose first language was Osage. She died in 2005. Since 2003, and the formation of the 2006 reformed Osage government, many resources have been directed to preserving and increasing Osage language speakers.
The Osage Nation Language Department currently offers community classes, both in-person and online, they offer various language apps, a virtual reality experience, books, an online dictionary, high school classes and they work in conjunction with the Nation’s WELA centers and private elementary school, Daposka Ahnkodapi – which teaches the Osage language beginning with infants and in classes through the 8th grade.
For more information about the Osage Nation Language Department or how you can sign up for classes, both online and in person, call (918) 287-5505 or visit their website at https://www.osageculture.com/