The Internet is either a boon or a bane for some communities. For the Chickasaw Nation, the Internet is the former and they are utilizing it to save their dying language. While the Internet has been accused of killing some languages, in this case, technology has contributed to keeping a language as well as a culture very much alive.
The Chickasaw embraced modern technology fiercely. The nation has created accounts on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook, and their online community is very vibrant. They have also created their own online TV channel, the 6-channel Chickasaw Nation Video Network. They show 1,500 videos of their oral history, stories, customs and cooking traditions. All of this contribute to their effort to preserve their 3,000-year old language. They aim to reach the 15,000 tribe members that connect to each other through their online community.
The Chickasaw language
The Chickasaw language, called Chikashshanompa, has been used for 3,000 years although this Native American tribe has been in existence for 50,000 years. The language is severely endangered, according to UNESCO. Emily Johnson Dickerson was the last monolingual speaker of Chikashshanompa and she passed away last December and so the effort to keep their language alive had the tribe scrambling.
Dwindling number of native speakers
The total population of the Chickasaw nation is 57,000, and this includes the 38,000 that live in Oklahoma. In the 1960s, there were still about 3,000 speakers of this Native American language, according to the Joshua Hinson, who is the Language Department director of the Chickasaw Nation. The native speakers of Chikashshanompa learnt it at home and the last speakers were born in the late 1940s, therefore the youngest native speakers are already now in their early 70s.
Speakers of the language dwindled dramatically because many of the natives left Oklahoma to live in other parts of the country. Political pressures and mandatory schooling where students were required to be use English contributed greatly to the reduction of native speakers.
Efforts to keep language and culture alive
They keep their oral traditions, language and their culture alive through their funding initiatives, such as their 6-channel online TV channel. They also have a Chickasaw language app with recordings of native speakers and language terms. They likewise have an online version of their Chickasaw Times newspaper. Community members and those interested in the language can listen online to KCNP, their community radio station, which plays modern and traditional music.
The Chickasaws also conducts conversational classes as well as dance meetings, cultural classes and community study groups. Each May the tribe hosts a Chickasaw Reunion. They send their children to summer camps called Hayaka Anca.
They aim to provide quality content for their tribesmen as well as create a population of conversational Chikashshanompa speakers, and eventually make people around the world known who they are, according to Hinson.