Preserving Wyandotte's Past

WYANDOTTE, Okla. - This may look like a typical preschool class, but something very special is happening here.
"I come in, I greet them in Wyandotte, and they greet me back. Then, we just go through, sometimes we play games, and I'll quiz them on it," said Loretta Combes, Tribal Heritage Specialist.
Loretta Combes began teaching the Wyandotte language to the tribal preschool students three years ago.
"The kids are amazing--they pick it up. I say it one time and they have it. I'll come back and eat lunch with them, and they'll say those words to me. They're so proud of themselves and I'm so proud of them," Combes explained.
Combes may visit these four- and five-year-olds once a week, but the words are incorporated into their every day curriculum.
"The teachers do an awesome job. They incorporate all of the language that we learn each week into their lessons," said Combes.
"Uneh," said student Nevaeh Cooper.
"What does that mean?" asked KSN's Jessica Schaer.
"Goodbye," Cooper replied.
"It's a rich heritage and we want for them to feel welcome, and we want for them to understand what our history is and language is a big part of that," said Combes.
"How do you say your name in Wyandotte?" Schaer asked student Wyatt Graham.
"Wyatt -- Ejotsay," said Graham.
"Our big thing is 'we are preserving the future of our past.' So, we are learning, we have our culture, and we're trying to bring some of those things back. Language is the big piece right now that we're working towards," Combes explained.
"Language is identity. And for a tribe, language is very important to identity and who we are," said Chief Billy Friend of the Wyandotte Nation.
Wyandotte Chief Billy Friend explains the tribe's language was almost lost through the years. He says it stems back to the early 1900's when Indian boarding schools became the norm in the United States.
"At one time, it wasn't popular to be Indian. They were taking children out of homes, putting them in boarding schools and they weren't allowed to teach or speak their language," Chief Friend explained.
Right now, there are no fluent speakers of the Wyandotte language, but tribe leaders are hoping to change that.
"It's very important for us now to be able to bring that language back, begin to teach it and to teach our children what it means to be Wyandotte, and part of that is language," said Chief Friend.
"Tell the stories in Wyandotte. That's what we're kind of working towards now, is to get our Wyandotte stories in our native language, so we can share that with our future," said Combes.
Combes says the ultimate goal is to get the language lessons into the public school system, and to eventually produce fluent Wyandotte speakers.
"We are currently developing a curriculum, so we can bring that into the elementary and the high school," Combes explained.
By the end of the school year, these students will likely know how to say greetings, numbers, and colors all on their own, so that one day, they will teach the future generations.
"The way of life, how it was, how much we've evolved, what our culture was and what our citizens went through," said Combes.
The Wyandotte Nation isn't the only Four State tribe to preserve their language. You can click on the following tribes to learn about their langages.

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