Every spring, hundreds of student speakers and learners of Native languages from Oklahoma and other states gather in Norman for the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair (ONAYLF), a celebration of language diversity and cultural heritage. Participants take to the stage in live presentations of song, speech and story; students’ poster art, films, books, cartoons and writing are proudly displayed. Every student that enters a performance or material category receives a t-shirt that bears the Grand Prize poster art from the previous year. Attendees also receive medallions and compete for first, second and third place trophies per category and age division, which are awarded by panels of Native speakers, elders and educators for language use, fluency, spirit of performance and stage presence.
The Sam Noble Museum is honored to host the largest event for linguistic diversity in the state. Nowhere else in Oklahoma can so many (over 40) indigenous languages be heard in the same place. The Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair began in April 2003 at the Sam Noble Museum. Elder and teacher Geneva Navarro (Comanche), Indian educator Quinton Roman Nose (Cheyenne) and the museum’s first Native American Languages curator, Mary Linn, sought to recognize the Native language teachers and students in Oklahoma. Native communities have always valued oratory skills, and the Fair provides a venue for youth to use their Native languages publicly. The first Fair attracted almost 200 students and teachers with spoken language performance, song with dance and poster art categories. The Fair currently spans two days, four age divisions and 12 categories for material submissions and performances. The 2018 Fair featured over 1363 student participants. While many of our original goals are the same, they have grown as the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair has grown. We feel that the Fair supports individual and community goals in language maintenance, revitalization and renewal in these ways:
- Excellence in language teaching and learning
- Convening a community of speakers
- Instilling cultural and linguistic pride
- Innovative and traditional use of Native languages
- Culturally appropriate assessment
- Support of the arts and literacy
- Transition into higher education
- Public awareness of Oklahoma’s Native languages
In recognition of the Sam Noble Museum’s longstanding work on ONAYLF, the museum received the 2017 University Museums and Collections Award from the International Council of Museums. ONAYLF Program Director, Dan Swan, accepted the award in September 2017 in Helsinki, Finland.
If you are learning your language or passing on your language at home or in a classroom and have never come to the Fair, we invite you to join us this spring. If you are just interested in knowing more about the beauty and diversity of Native languages in Oklahoma and North America, please come visit the Fair. Your presence will support these dedicated youth and the continued use of indigenous languages. For more information about the Fair’s history, please contact ONAYLF staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (405) 325-7588.