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June 11, 2010

Law professor contributes to effort to save native languages

Professor Robert Miller, an expert in Indian Law, discusses how museums and tribal nations are collaborating to save native languages.
  • Professor Robert J. Miller

Professor Robert Miller, an expert in Indian Law and a citizen of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, recently presented at a conference focused on language preservation, hosted by the American Philosophical Society (APS). The APS was founded in 1743 with the mission of promoting knowledge; today, the organization holds a vast collection of items related to the histories, languages, and cultures of American Indians.

In his presentation, quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Miller said that nearly half of the 300 languages spoke in North America when Europeans arrived have since disappeared. In recent years, the APS has digitized its collection of 1,000 hours of language materials from 54 tribes and convened the conference to engage tribal leaders, language experts, and archivists in a discussion of how the newly digitized materials can be used effectively for language preservation and cultural revitalization.

Miller wrote in Indian Country Today about the conference and the critical need for more collaboration:

“There is far more work to be done at the APS and at the hundreds of museums and institutions across the United States that hold materials that are of potential interest to American Indians…One can only hope that APS and other institutions will involve Indians and tribes in sharing their collections with Native communities, and will continue to create partnerships that will assist tribal communities in preserving their cultures and languages.”

Read more of Miller’s reflections on issues facing indigenous communities on his blog, Native America, Discovered and Conquered.