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GLOBAL INDIGENOUS: Tibetan language under attack


Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to ICT

Around the World: Bowel cancer risk surges among younger Māori, Sichuan schools prohibit students from speaking Tibetan, Métis beadworker Jennine Krauchi receives prestigious award, and Sámi museum wins 2024 European Museum of the Year Award.

NEW ZEALAND: Bowel cancer risk surges

Recent studies from the University of Otago, Christchurch, indicate a troubling increase in colorectal cancer among young New Zealanders, with Māori facing an even higher risk, Te Ao Maori News reported on May 9.

Study lead author Dr. Oliver Waddell noted that while the overall rate of bowel cancer among Māori is lower than in the general population, the incidence in Māori under 50 is climbing more rapidly than in other groups.

“If these increases continue unchecked, Māori colorectal cancer rates could surpass those of the general population,” Waddell said.

In 2020, 18 percent of all Māori colorectal cancer cases were individuals younger than 50, compared to 8.5 percent in the overall population. “The overall incidence of bowel cancer remains stable. However, in younger demographics, under the age of 50, we’re observing a significant rise – about 26 percent every 10 years,” Waddell said, according to Te Ao Māori News.

Despite colorectal cancer primarily affecting older adults, the study showed a decline of 18 percent per decade in the 50-79 age group within the general population, whereas rates remained unchanged for Māori. The projections suggest that by 2040, there could be 524 cases of early-onset colorectal cancer annually in Aotearoa, nearly double the number recorded in 2020.

Waddell and his colleagues recommend reducing the bowel screening age, noting that current screening ages for Māori and Pacific Islanders range from 50 to 74 years, compared to 60-74 years for the rest of the population. “This study strengthens the argument for earlier bowel cancer screenings,” he said.

Colorectal cancer ranks as the second most common cancer in Aotearoa among both men and women, claiming over 1,200 lives annually. In 2020, there were 3,515 CRC diagnoses in New Zealand.

CHINA: Tibetan language prohibited

According to two sources from inside Tibet, Chinese officials have prohibited students in a Tibetan-populated region of Sichuan province from using their native language in communications with peers and teachers, Radio Free Asia reported on May 8.

The ban affects elementary, middle and high schools in Nyagchu county, known as Yajiang in Chinese, where students and teachers are mandated to communicate solely in Mandarin for alleged safety reasons.

This restriction is part of broader efforts by the Chinese government to suppress Tibetan culture and replace it with Mandarin and Han Chinese influences. Similar measures include a previous ban on Tibetan language classes in the Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and the 2020 shutdown of private Tibetan schools across Tibet. In 2021, the government also prohibited Tibetan children from attending Tibetan language classes during winter breaks.

These actions have sparked concerns among activists about the potential extinction of the Tibetan language in the region. Additional restrictions have limited school holidays, reducing family interactions in Tibetan.

“Traditional breaks like spring and summer holidays have been eliminated, forcing children to remain in boarding schools for extended periods,” one Tibetan source explained, according to Radio Free Asia. This has led to a noticeable decline in Tibetan language proficiency among the youth in Nyagchu.

Previously, government-run boarding schools allowed Tibetan children to return home on weekends and provided longer breaks in the April-June period for family activities like harvesting caterpillar fungus, a vital source of income. However, these breaks have been discontinued, further reducing family contact and impacting language fluency among Tibetans in Kardze.

Tibetan parents who once sought private schools for their children to learn Tibetan are now facing limited options due to the recent ban in Kardze. Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, claimed to be unaware of these specifics but stated that “the Chinese government protects the freedom of ethnic minorities to use and develop their own languages and the freedom of religious belief,” according to Radio Free Asia.

Despite these assurances, the closure of several private Tibetan schools in 2021, including Phende School and Chaktsa Tevey Private Elementary School, among others, indicates ongoing restrictions. All schools in Nyagchu county’s six towns and 10 villages are now residential, often described by activists as “colonial-style,” where Tibetan children are separated from their families and taught in Chinese.

Highlighting the importance of early language exposure, Sangye Tandar Naga, from the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, emphasized, “This early exposure is crucial because it becomes significantly more challenging for adults to learn the language later in life.”

During a recent event in Dharamsala attended by Tibetan educators and scholars, strategies to preserve the Tibetan language were discussed, underlining the critical role of parents in teaching their children about the significance of preserving their linguistic heritage, as noted by the 7th Ling Rinpoche, the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama’s principal tutor.

CANADA: Métis bead-worker honored

For over 40 years, Jennine Krauchi has devoted her life to promoting and sharing the art of Métis beadwork globally, APTN News reported on May 10.

“There’s something about beadwork, and something about doing beadwork that just brings you back to who you are, and to be proud of who you are,” Krauchi said.

This week, Krauchi was recognized by the Manitoba Arts Council with its 2024 Award of Distinction. The award, which includes a $30,000 prize, is annually bestowed upon an artist who demonstrates outstanding achievement in both craft and community involvement.

Audrey Dwyer, the council’s director of granting, said, “At the Manitoba Arts Council, we aim to honor someone who not only demonstrates artistic excellence but also contributes significantly to the arts community in Manitoba, qualities that Jennine embodies.”

Krauchi, a Red River Métis, acquired her beading skills by watching her mother, Jenny Meyer. Her beadwork has been featured in prominent venues such as the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and on two collectors’ coins from the Royal Canadian Mint. Despite this recognition, Krauchi pointed out that beadwork has not always been celebrated in Canadian institutions. “Our beadwork was stored away in museum drawers, only occasionally viewed by someone curious enough to take a peek,” she said.

In recent years, however, there has been a noticeable increase in interest in beadwork, particularly among the younger generation. In 2022, Krauchi’s and other Métis artists’ beadwork was showcased in the exhibition “Kwaata-nihtaawakihk: A Hard Birth” at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. “That moment marked a significant shift. More artists were getting their work into galleries and exhibitions, altering the public perception of beadwork and recognizing it as a legitimate art form,” she said, according to APTN News.

Krauchi views beadwork as a collective effort and sees the award as a tribute not only to the emerging generation of beadworkers but also to the women who laid the groundwork. “The women who came before us and created these beautiful pieces never received the recognition they deserved. This award is dedicated to them, as without their contributions, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she reflected.

FINLAND: Sámi museum wins award

The 2024 European Museum of the Year Award Committee granted its yearly award to the newly renovated Sámi Museum Siida in Inari and commended the museum for its innovative approach, ethical preservation methods, and promotion of cultural dialogue, Eye on the Arctic reported on May 9.

Fifty museums across 24 Council of Europe member states were nominated for this prestigious recognition, each visited by jury members who closely evaluated every candidate. At the conclusion of this comprehensive review, the Sámi Museum Siida, located alongside Lake Inari in the northernmost region of Finland, emerged as the distinguished winner of this year’s award.

As Finland’s national museum of the Sámi people, who are recognized as the only Indigenous culture in Europe, Sámi Museum Siida plays a crucial role. “Sámi Museum Siida is first and foremost for the Sámi people themselves. However, we are immensely proud to see that our narrative is also resonating within the broader European museum community and with audiences globally,” said museum director Taina Pieski during her acceptance speech.

The museum, established in 1959, underwent a significant refurbishment in 2022 that enhanced its public spaces and added a nature center. The jury praised the museum for its extensive collaborations with various Sámi associations, craft groups and educational bodies.

“The museum excels in its open, participatory, and transparent approach to integration, which bridges the past and present for both the Sámi and the wider community. By affirming the Sámi’s right to own ancestral lands and recognizing the role of Sámi Parliaments in cultural autonomy, the museum contributes significantly to the global discourse on reparations for indigenous peoples,” said the jury, according to Eye on the Arctic.

Inari, the village where the museum is located, is also a cultural hub, hosting the Finnish Sámi Parliament, the Sápmi newsroom of Finnish broadcaster YLE, and the Sámi cultural center Sajos. The region is linguistically rich, with three Sámi languages spoken: Northern Sámi, Inari Sámi and Skolt Sámi.

“We hope this award strengthens our ongoing efforts in repatriation, helping our community reclaim ancestral artifacts,” said museum director Pieski. “We seek the continued support of the European museum community in this endeavor.”

My final thoughts

My final thoughts are in China, where the recent decision by Chinese authorities to ban students from speaking their native Tibetan language in schools in Sichuan province is deeply concerning and warrants unequivocal condemnation.

Language is not merely a tool for communication; it is the very fabric of cultural identity and heritage. By inhibiting the use of Tibetan among students, these restrictions not only undermine individual rights but also threaten the preservation of a rich and ancient culture. Such measures can have long-lasting detrimental effects on the psychological well-being and cultural continuity of the Tibetan people.

Preserving linguistic diversity is crucial to maintaining the broader tapestry of global heritage. Every language carries unique modes of thinking and understanding the world, which are invaluable to the collective human experience. The suppression of any language is a loss to cultural diversity and hinders mutual understanding among different communities.

Moving forward, it is essential for stakeholders within and outside of China to advocate for policies that respect linguistic rights and promote multiculturalism. International bodies and human rights organizations should work toward engaging the Chinese government in dialogue to reconsider these policies.

Additionally, supporting educational initiatives that uphold the use of native languages and fostering environments where cultural practices can thrive are vital steps toward ensuring that the Tibetan language and culture are preserved for future generations.

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