Family at the heart of Chickasaw language reclamation

The Chickasaw Nation faces rapid and unprecedented decline of its language, Chikashshanompa’. As a result, community members are growing increasingly aware of the importance of the language to identity and culture, and language reclamation has emerged as a dynamic project requiring commitment from all generations. This article argues that despite the traumas of physical, cultural, and linguistic genocide, contemporary Chickasaw citizens are moving forward and re-envisioning the role of language in the community. In doing so, family has emerged to be at the heart of their efforts. In-depth interviews with community members representing multiple generations illuminated unique perspectives on the importance of Chikashshanompa’ to the strengthening of Chickasaw families. The article begins with a personal account of my own experiences as a Chikashshanompa’ language learner, followed by a historical overview of Chikashshanompa’ decline. I then present a discussion of contemporary Chickasaw language revitalization efforts situated within the theoretical concepts of language reclamation, survivance, and linguistic responsibility. Culturally-grounded research methods frame my analysis of emerging themes, including: (1) elders’ desire to ensure Chickasaw survivance through the language, (2) parents’ responsibility to pass the language to their children, and (3) young peoples’ yearning to speak Chikashshanompa’ and developing consciousness of Chickasaw identity.

Chew, K. A. B. (2015). Family at the heart of Chickasaw language reclamation. American Indian Quarterly, 39(2), 154–179. [post-print version]