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Oneida language making a comeback through community's youngest members

Educators are teaching students the Oneida language through immersion classes, and parents say they're proud to have their kids come home and share what they've learned with the rest of their family.
Posted at 5:06 AM, Nov 08, 2023

ONEIDA (NBC 26) — Students as young as four are learning the Oneida language, thanks to the school's immersion program.

Instructor Dr. Rosa King is offering a glimpse of what students are learning in hopes of bringing the Oneida language back to the community.

"It's really rewarding I would say. People always ask me, "Is this hard work?" I always say, "No, this is heart work." This is coming from a different place in terms of what I do, and teaching in general is definitely a challenge, but it is really, really rewarding," Dr. King said.

Dr. King says only a few people in the community can fluently speak the language, and she believes immersing children at a young age will keep their culture alive and thriving.

"Being able to share this language, this medicine with our people with our community and supporting the survival, really of our ways, our cultural ways. If we don't have our language, if we don't have our culture we could cease to exist as a people," Dr. King said.

Priscilla Belisle's 7-year-old daughter has been in the immersion program for three years. She says watching her daughter teach her 90-year-old grandmother the language makes her proud.

"It really is beneficial in the long run as well, because language is our sovereignty. It's our culture. It's who we are. If I can instill that in my daughter and my other children, then they're going to grow up to be proud of who they are, producing citizens of the Oneida Nation, and hopefully bring that knowledge and that value system back to the community," Belisle said.

Dr. King says she hopes to expand the program for adults and offer advanced courses for high school students.

"It's a sacred place where our language lives. This is a place where our language is spoken. This is a place where our language is heard, and not too many places like that exist within our community," Dr. King said.

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about the Oneida language, there are plenty of resources available.