Laura Gates of the National Park Service looks over materials on display Wednesday during a Cultural Preservation and Revitalization symposium in Kinder. The three-day symposium is focusing on preserving and reviving Indian languages and cultures. More than 80 people, including representatives of 12 tribes in four states, are attending the event. (Doris Maricle / American Press)
Last Modified: Thursday, November 15, 2012 4:04 PM
KINDER — The Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana is working to preserve the Koasati language, which is considered endangered.
“About 30 years ago our tribe was very fluent in its language and culture, but over the years it has disappeared,” said Crystal Williams, a member of the Koasati Language Committee.
“When I was little I used to speak it fluently, but today it is harder to speak. But I still understand everything.”
The Elton-based tribe is hosting a three-day Cultural Preservation and Revitalization symposium at Koasati Pines.
“Our focus is on language, but we also want to preserve the culture and heritage of Native Americans,” said Linda Langley, a research professor of anthropology at McNeese State University.
She said efforts are under way to preserve photos, pottery, cane baskets, dances and tribal traditions. Many practices are being shared at the symposium, which is being attended by more than 80 people, including members from 12 tribes in four states.
“Our elders say that our language is the culture and through language we get our dances, food and traditions,” Langley said.
Twenty-five percent of the Coushatta Tribe’s 900 members were fluent in the Koasati language, according to a 2007 survey, Williams said.
“It is near extinct,” she said. “Our goal is to bring it back, especially to those tribal members who are in their 20s or younger.”
The Coushatta Tribe hosts several language classes throughout the year, teaching members as young as 3 years old to speak the Koasati language.
“I am happy to see the young people take an interest in learning about their language,” Williams said. “They want to learn more about their culture because they know it is their identity and they want to know their people.”
Jack Martin, a professor of English and linguistics at the College of William and Mary, said those attending the symposium have a “shared interest” in preserving their language and culture.
“We want to document and revitalize the native language of the South,” Martin said. “And we want to see what other programs are doing because many of us are dealing with the same issues on how to get things started.”
The Coushatta Tribe has partnered with anthropologists and linguists from The College of William and Mary and McNeese State University to preserve the language.
“We need to reverse the language decline and restore the language to a form of daily communications,” Martin said.
He said there is some history of the Koasati language, but almost no history of reading and writing because it had previously been only a spoken language.
The Coushatta Tribe has spent the last five years documenting its language with video interviews of tribal members, a phonetic study of Koasati and a talking dictionary of the language. They have also created an alphabet and have created workbooks and audiobooks to teach the language.
“They have spent two summers going through different topics and writing down words and making recordings of individuals saying the word,” Martin said.
As a result, there are now about 1,700 words in the Koasati database, he said.