Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication

Gaylord News

Oklahoma tribes making plans to use American Rescue Plan funds in Native language programs


A Choctaw language lesson. Photo by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Nancy Marie Spears, Reporter

Tribal leaders across Oklahoma say they are looking forward to seeing how American Rescue Plan funds for language preservation are distributed.

“We could use the money, whether it be making more programming for our kids, puppet shows, things like that,” said Justin Neely, director of language for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

“Or maybe doing something with remote learning. There’s a lot of different ways that we could use that money to just enhance our delivery of language. I’d love to make a video game in Potawatomi — I’d love to make an app in Potawatomi.”

Jillian Curtis, director of the Indian Health Service’s office of finance and accounting, said during a telephone call with journalists that they expect to begin allocations soon, but the first step is consulting each tribe to find out how they want the money distributed.

Rebecca Risenhoover, Cheyenne and Arapaho language director, said she and Arapaho Lead Apprentice James Sleeper are already thinking of ways to use the ARP money in their language program. She said they are unique in that they teach two separate languages: Cheyenne and Arapaho.

Risenhoover said they plan to hire new apprentices to “generate new conversationally, fluent speakers.”

“In order to have learners, we have to have speakers. In order to have teachers, we have to have speakers,” Sleeper said. “And then there’s equipment too, like our elders need Internet. They need recorders so they can record themselves.”

“I think it’s just nice to finally be recognized that we (all Native Nations) have different languages,” Risenhoover said. “And it’s important to each tribe that they continue with their languages. English shouldn’t always be that first language for anybody, especially for Natives.”

Risenhoover said the funds could help smaller tribes establish language programs and get started on their own efforts to preserve, revive and maintain their languages.

“This country’s policies towards Native American people have taken away our languages,” Sleeper said. “Our cultures are suffering because of their policies. And now they’re helping us get our languages back.”

Tribal nations have had to scramble to keep language classes operational amid the back-and-forth of public school instruction and other complications from COVID-19. Some tribes including the Choctaw Nation have conducted virtual classes.

The Shawnee tribe declared 2020 the Year of the Shawnee Language, and went a step further and made the years 2021-2030 the decade of the Shawnee language. Out of that came the Community Language Preservationist (CLP) Program, created to generate speakers and teachers, said Shawnee Language Department Director Joel Barnes.

The tribe has established a budget for a 10-year language teaching curriculum and increased its staff to five people which includes a first language speaker, a linguist and curriculum development specialists.

“These are efforts to not just elevate the conversation about Shawnee language, but also to affirm UNESCO’s initiative of their International Year of Indigenous Languages as well as the upcoming International Decade of Indigenous Languages,” Shawnee Chief Ben Barnes said.

“We’re spending more than $40 per year for every enrolled citizen of the Shawnee tribe on language,” Chief Barnes said. “We’re spending more per tribal citizen than perhaps any other tribe in the nation that we pledge for our citizens. That’s how serious we take language preservation.”


Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. For more stories from Gaylord News, visit


Leave a Comment
Navigate Left
  •  Medical marijuana is a booming industry in Oklahoma with over 12,000 marijuana business licenses issued.


    Marijuana growers struggling to navigate changing legal landscape

  • In the United States alone, domestic violence impacts more than 10 million people every year. Organizations such as the National Network to End Domestic Violence are working to educate the public on how to recognize red flags and seek ways to improve the criminal justice system. (Provided)


    National Network to End Domestic Violence seeks to improve justice system

  • Domestic violence survivor aims to help others following violent attack


    Domestic violence survivor aims to help others following violent attack

  • Marilyn Vann became the first woman of Freedmen status to be appointed to a board position in the Cherokee Nation tribal government in 2021. She is also president of the Descendants of Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes Association. (Provided)


    Cherokee Freedman woman discusses new position, Freedmen rights

  • The upcoming Wilma Mankiller quarter design. (U.S. Mint Department)


    Female leaders in Oklahoma tribes say Cherokee chief Wilma Mankiller was inspiring

  • Oklaoma City residents celebrate “El Dia de Niño” The Day of the Children at La 29 festival. (PHOTO courtesy Greater Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce)


    Mexican government announces plans to open consulate in Oklahoma City

  • -Joy Harjo signs into the Poetry and Literature Centers historic guest book as the nations 23rd poet laureate. (Shawn Miller/Library of Congress)


    Oklahoma native Joy Harjo rings in third term as US poet laureate

  • Two decades later, 9/11 Oklahoma victims wife recalls their life before tragedy


    Two decades later, 9/11 Oklahoma victim’s wife recalls their life before tragedy

  • Field Parsons stands on an aircraft at the Max Westheimer airport on March 24. (Gaylord News/ Zaria Oates)


    OU School of Aviation focuses on securities and student well-being post-9/11

  • The Pentagon Group Burial Marker in section at Arlington National Cemetery. The marker has the name of all 189 victims of the Pentagon 9/11 attack. (PHOTO: Robert Viamontes/Gaylord News)


    Twenty years later, families of Oklahomans killed at the Pentagon on 9/11 remember their legacy

Navigate Right

Comments (0)

All Gaylord News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *