Bloomington center of nonprofit's efforts to preserve Native American languages


Kevin Locke plays indigenous flute songs during a performance for the Supporting Native Voices Gala on Thursday night at Deer Park Manor. The gala was put on by the Language Conservancy to help conserve ancient languages. Katelyn Rowe and Katelyn Rowe Buy Photos

Their beneficiaries are hundreds of miles from Bloomington, but the Language Conservancy still put on a fundraising gala at Deer Park Manor for the preservation of indigenous languages Thursday evening.

Yuliya Manyakina, an event manager with the nonprofit, rushed between rooms Thursday as she made sure all finishing touches were in order — food laid out, artwork, shawls and books set for a silent auction.

“We are expecting at least 50 people so far,” Manyakina said. “We’ve had kind of a low profile in Bloomington, but we’ve been here for at least a decade.”

Manyakina said the Language Conservancy serves communities in Montana and North and South Dakatoa and helps Native American tribes maintain their endangered languages by creating websites, workbooks and dictionaries for school-aged children.

“Bloomington is the headquarters,” Manyakina said. “We do all of the print work here.”

On Thursday, the conservancy chose to focus on their efforts to preserve the Lakota language. They sold tickets to the gala and displayed books on tables.

Language Conservancy Director Wil Meya emphasized the importance of native languages for young Native Americans.

“If they have access to their tribe’s language, they’re healthier psychologically, they’re more productive and the communities are healthier,” Maya said. “We start doing work with certain languages when the tribes come to us and say, ‘our kids want to learn the language.’”

Meya said he could think of at least three Native American communities that were severely endangered and had only one fluent speaker left.

“All of our communities are endangered,” Meya said. “Bloomington is a great place to do this work. We’re only three hours from South Dakota by plane — that’s like driving to South Bend.”

The conservancy invited Native American flutist and dancer Kevin Locke to perform. Manyakina said she heard he had just come from Turkey for the event.

“It seems like he’s been to more countries than the Pope,” Meya said.

Locke told a narrative before each story, emulating the way the songs would have been performed hundreds of years ago.

When he played the flute, the instrument was husky and trilling. Sometimes he would break into song.

“The songs are very moody and are their own literary form,” Locke said. “One verse will say something cryptic, and the second verse will explain it. Like this one, ‘In the heavens beyond, everything will be okay.’”

Clara Perry wandered between the room with music and a room with more guests and refreshments. She said someone had told her about the event and she decided to come.

“I paid $25 for my ticket at the door,” Perry said. “I don’t have ties to anyone Native American — I’m from Colombia. But I like the music, and I like the dancing. I support what they’re doing tonight.”

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