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First Nations Chief from B.C. Calls for Urgent Effort to Save Indigenous Languages

By EDITH M. LEDERER
The Associated Press

January 22, 2016 – A Canadian tribal chief is calling for urgent efforts to revive indigenous languages, saying their extinction is going unnoticed while the world focuses on the preservation of cultural heritage sites.

Edward John, a member of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told a news conference that ancient wonders are important but indigenous languages are “the essential component of cultural heritage” and should get international attention and support to ensure their survival.

John spoke Thursday at the end of a three-day meeting of indigenous language experts at U.N. headquarters on revitalizing many of the estimated 6,000 to 7,000 languages spoken by native peoples around the world.

“The priority focus that I hear from all of the experts is, create fluent speakers,” he said. “That's what you need to do. How do you do it? That's the discussion taking place.”

“There's been a large focus on literacy, developing books and calendars and dictionaries” in indigenous languages, John said, “but not as much of an effort in fluency.”

John pointed to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's address in May 2011 to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues where he said: “Today, one indigenous language dies every two weeks. Indigenous cultures are threatened with extinction.”

What's needed urgently is a commitment from every government to identify the indigenous languages in their country and the number and age of speakers so that a global map of where they are can be drawn up for the first time, he said. Then, the focus must be on revitalizing those with fewer speakers and finding the resources to keep languages from becoming extinct.

“We know there are some languages where there are less than a handful of speakers left, and when they're gone that language is gone and everything — everything about that culture and that heritage is gone as well,” John said.

Tatjana Degai, an ethnic Itelman from Kamchatka on Russia's Pacific coast, said her people's language “is severely endangered.”

READ FULL ARTICLE: The Big Story,. “Indigenous Leader: Save Native Languages From Extinction“. N. p., 2016. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.

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