Our Voices on the Air: Community Radio as a Tool for Language Revitalization


Date/Location: Thursday, May 30, 2013; 1:15-2:230; Trusteeship Council Chamber

Speakers: Mr. Mark Camp (Cultural Survival); Mr. Kaimanaonalani Barcarse; Mr. Anselmo Xunic; Mr. Caesar Gomez

Attended by: Marli Kasdan

Today in the Trusteeship Council Chamber a side event, entitled Our voices on the Air: Community Radio as a Tool for Language Revitalization, was held as part of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The meeting included a panel discussion on the uses of radio as a tool for preserving and promoting the use of indigenous languages. The first speaker, Mr. Camp, gave a statement on how indigenous languages across the world are rapidly declining and disappearing. In the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, there is a guarantee of language as an indigenous right. In order to keep indigenous languages alive, certain communities are using radio as a tool of communication and a way to revive indigenous language. Cultural Survival and the Smithsonian, through their Recovering Voices Initiative, held a conference at the Smithsonian where they invited radio producers from 30 different indigenous radio stations from 7 different countries to discuss how each of their communities is using radio to revive language. Following this introduction, Mr. Barcarse spoke about his experience of using radio to revive indigenous language in his native Hawaiian community. He discussed how in 1896, the U.S. banned the use of the Hawaiian language, and by 1982, less than 50 speakers under the age of 18 were fluent in Hawaiian. The language remained outlawed until 1987. Mr. Barcarse’s community is working to bring the Hawaiian language back through radio. He works with KWX FM which brings radio programming in Hawaiian to the community. Their main goals include to show the value in Hawaiian language and to expand its use. Mr. Xunic then spoke of his experience in Guatemala where a community radio was founded 10 years ago to preserve, recover, and encourage the use of Mayan languages. Radio Ixchel, created in 2003, is used as a tool for communication which can be heard in remote areas at a low cost, where other forms of media cannot reach. Furthermore, Mr. Xunic stated that radio has the ability to reach every type of person from every social class. Many volunteers from the community, including women and children, have helped run the radio station and encourage the use of Mayan language. Mr. Gomez then concluded the panel discussion with a statement on his experiences with using radio to encourage indigenous language use in a different area of Guatemala. He stated that language defines identity and his community, which speaks the native language of Pokoman, did not want to loose the use of their language. They began to combat this language loss by building an education center where the community could teach Pokoman to those who wanted to learn. The community responded positively, and Pokoman started to be taught in primary schools. In order to further ensure that they had the right to their language use and communication, they started a radio station in Pokoman to help spread the use of the language. This strengthened their community as well as their feeling of cultural identity.

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