Why Do Indigenous Languages Matter?

October 22, 2020

Dear CS Community,

As we all deal with the impacts of COVID-19, I want to take a moment to recognize the incredible work our on-the-ground grant partners are doing to continue to revitalize their Indigenous languages and cultures. 

Through our Keepers of the Earth Fund, Cultural Survival funded Munanai, an Indigenous grassroots organization based in ||Hui !Gais (original name of Cape Town), South Africa. Denver Breda, a Khoe cultural and language activist and the founder of Munanai, is working hard to ensure Indigenous youth have access to learning Khoekhoegowab, their Indigenous language.

Denver says, "Language is critical to how a community sees themselves and the world they inhabit. Their understanding of the world is formed by thousands of words – and what remains when those words are taken? This is the case with our Khoe people in South Africa, a people robbed of our languages with no restorative attempts made post-1994 to acknowledge our violent language loss. As Khoe people, we cannot be passive about this evil of being ignored." 

Denver piloted a project at Hillwood Primary School where he facilitates Khoekhoegowab language courses in Cape Town for primary school kids. With a Keepers of the Earth Fund grant, Denver's organization, Munanai, started a project called Khomai (“Read” in the Khoekhoegowab). They created a basic Khoekhoegowab language reader book for members of Khoe communities in South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana, which is contributing to the revitalization of the ancestral Khoekhoegowab language. Additionally, our grant also funded a podcast that provides an audio-educational experience for Khoe language learners. 

Indigenous Peoples speak over 70% of the world's languages, despite accounting for only being 6.2% of the global population. Indigenous languages are the entryway to Indigenous cultures, cosmovisions, philosophies and traditional knowledge; sustaining Indigenous languages is intrinsically tied to sustaining Earth’s biodiversity. COVID-19 has posed a serious threat to our elders and the vast knowledge they hold. It is estimated that more than 2,000 languages are endangered or going silent, with less than 1,000 speakers remaining.

Cultural Survival's Keepers of the Earth Fund supports important organizations like Munanai, who are working to revitalize and keep their Indigenous language strong. Since 2017, the Fund  has supported over 119 projects in 31 countries totaling $528,435 in small grants.

We need your financial support and call onto our community to continue to invest in Indigenous-led language and cultural revitalization effortsIf you’re able, please donate, even $10 goes a long way! I am grateful for our partnership and your commitment to supporting Indigenous-led organizations like Cultural Survival. Supporting Indigenous leadership is an investment in a better world for us all.

In solidarity and gratitude, 

Galina Angarova
Executive Director