Loss of Indigenous Languages – symptom or underlying cause?

Cultural Worlds by WhyWarriors.com.au

Some groups are now starting to recognise that struggling Indigenous groups need to be given greater levels of control and autonomy over their own lives, and a lack of mastery over ones own life is at the root of the problems in Aboriginal communities. However, when it comes to the importance of using local languages there is sometimes some confusion about the relevance of language related issues to Indigenous rights and self-determination. Language barriers, or the lack of utilisation of local languages is not just one of the problems in these communities. Utilising local languages is a major part of the solution to all the other problems. It is not that it would just be nice if Indigenous people could be taught in and participate in the global community using their own language. It must be understood that an Indigenous community cannot be given any kind of real control over their lives, where the dominant culture refuses to work through peoples’ own local languages.  And it does not matter if that language is an ancient language, a kriol or ‘Aboriginal english’, what matters is that it is the langauge that people grow up with. People can not have equal rights while they have to negotiate the legal, health and educational aspect of their lives in someone else’s language. While treaties and legislative changes that legally give Aboriginal people greater degrees of autonomy and rights are important, they will be ineffective and almost useless while the white man can continue to have the upper hand simply by being a native speaker of English. Language is mastery, who ever controls language controls information and those who lack information are marginalised. When we talk of equal rights for Indigenous peoples, the right to hear and be heard using their native languages should be at the top of the list, because it gives people mastery over their own lives and the life of their community.

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