Indigenous Language Politics in the Schoolroom
Cultural Survival in Mexico and the United StatesUniversity of Pennsylvania Press
Public school classrooms around the world have the power to shape and transform youth culture and identity. In this book, Mneesha Gellman examines how Indigenous high school students resist assimilation and assert their identities through access to Indigenous language classes in public schools. Drawing on ethnographic accounts, qualitative interviews, focus groups, and surveys, Gellman’s fieldwork examines and compares the experiences of students in Yurok language courses in Northern California and Zapotec courses in Oaxaca, Mexico. She contends that this access to Indigenous language instruction in secondary schooling serves as an arena for Indigenous students to develop their sense of identity and agency, and provides them tools and strategies for civic, social, and political participation, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Showcasing young people’s voices, and those of their teachers and community members, in the fight for culturally relevant curricula and educational success, Gellman demonstrates how the Indigenous language classroom enables students to understand, articulate, and resist the systemic erasure and destruction of their culture embedded in state agendas and educational curricula. Access to Indigenous language education, she shows, has positive effects not only for Indigenous students, but for their non-Indigenous peers as well, enabling them to become allies in the struggle for Indigenous cultural survival. Through collaborative methodology that engages in research with, not on, Indigenous communities, Indigenous Language Politics in the Schoolroom explores what it means to be young, Indigenous, and working for social change in the twenty-first century.
"Mneesha Gellman shows how Indigenous language programs in high schools operate as collaborative platforms for Indigenous identity reclamation, multicultural empowerment, and decolonization, and demonstrates how Indigenous languages and cultures are relevant issues to anyone interested in forging a fairer society."—Américo Mendoza Mori, Harvard University
"This book shows why language matters so much for Indigenous identity, and how communities like mine are keeping our language alive. Mneesha Gellman demonstrates how important it is for young people to learn about themselves and their cultures, and for schools to make a place for everyone in the schoolroom."—Victoria Carlson, Yurok Language Program Manager for the Yurok Tribe