When the 21st annual Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair took place April 1 at the Sam Noble Museum, young Citizen Potawatomi Nation students were some of those represented.

Robert Collins, the interdepartmental Potawatomi language lead for the Child Development Center and the Cultural Heritage Center, said he worked with the CDC’s Pre-K all-day class to prepare to perform in the spoken poetry category.

Over the course of two months, students dedicated four days a week to learning a poem titled “Ke Penojéyek Ndawmen” (“Children of the Land”) by Lila Tabobondung Waubenopitchikwe. In the mornings, they spent around 15 minutes practicing, and in the afternoon, they devoted 5 to 10 minutes perfecting their recitation. The poem was translated by Kim Wensaut, a student of Jim Thunder, and it explores the significance of preserving the Neshnabé language as a means of connecting with cultural heritage and traditions.

“I put séma down way back in 2000 and asked for a song for the kids,” Tabobondung said. “Two years later, I received that song. So, I guess you have to give credit to our ancestors. I just wrote down what they sent to me.”

Leading up to the language fair, the class also performed twice for elders at the Elders Center.

“We worked hard,” Collins said. “There was a lot of improvement. I’m very proud of how they stepped up at their age to perform that.”

Twelve students performed in the spoken poetry category, for which they received a first place ribbon.

Collins said being at the event and hearing students from different communities speaking their languages was a great experience.

“Watching those kids get up there and perform with that pride, it was pretty awesome,” he said.

Students are working with their regular curriculum again now that the event has passed, but looking to next year’s language fair, Collins said he hopes to enter more categories and to take students from other age groups as well.

He spoke highly of the teachers at the CDC who helped him make sure the students were prepared.

“Those teachers really stepped up with getting the kids ready. They took responsibility of what we were going to do, and it was very important for them as well,” he said.

The language fair is held each year in early April at the Sam Noble Museum on the campus of the University of Oklahoma. It is the largest event for linguistic diversity in Oklahoma, with more than 40 Indigenous languages represented. The event is free and open to the public and includes live presentations of songs, speeches and stories, as well as films, books, cartoons, posters and writing.

For more information about the language fair, visit cpn.news/ONAYLF.