COCC takes big step in support of Native American culture

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Cedar Goslin
The Broadside

For the first time, an Indigenous language class will be offered at Central Oregon Community College, starting winter term.
The Kiksht language, which is one of the three Indigenous languages spoken at Warm Springs will be offered at the Madras campus as a Humanities class, and will be taught by Valerie Switzler.
The introduction of this class has been a long time in the works, according to Gina Ricketts, the director of the Native American program.
“It’s a project I took on when I first took the job,” said Ricketts. “Before that Justine Connor [previous director of the Native American program] had been working on it.”
The significance of this language goes beyond adding to the diversity of subjects offered at COCC, according to Ricketts.
“The college’s decision to offer this class sends a message of support to the Native American community,” said Ricketts. “It tells them that COCC recognizes their culture and the importance of preserving their heritage.”
In addition to the level of support, Ricketts believed, is suggested by this class, she said more classes like the Kiksht language class could help restore Native American culture.
“Language is a powerful thing,” said Ricketts. “The first thing taken from Native people was their language, because that would dismantle their culture… this gives some of that back.”
The incorporation of Indigenous language classes could help prevent Native languages from dying out, according to Switzler. She said that over 200 Native languages are in danger of disappearing, but they could be saved if young generations have a venue to learn them, and therefore pass them on to future generations.
“It’s getting to the point that most of the Native language speakers are in the grandparent age,” said Switzler. “When they pass away the language will go with them unless… younger generations are able to learn the language.”
Passing language is something Switzler believes in very strongly.
“A lot of people ask me why I teach my language,” said Switzler. “The language has meaning. It’s like a key that brings us together with our customs.”
The offering of the Kiksht language class will be a good way to get Native Americans and their culture more integrated into their local college, according to Switzler. She hopes that eventually COCC will be able to offer the other two Warm Springs languages, as well as classes on Native American history and culture.
“It’s a good first step,” said Switzler.

(Contact: Cgoslin@cocc.edu)

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