Sunday, March 28, 2010

NAT: Wendat

An ancestral voice revived
Manon Sioui helps her father, Roland Sioui, during a game of Yawingo, a variation on bingo designed to teach numbers in the Wendat language to students in the Yawenda Project's classes. The project aims to revive Wendat, which hasn't been spoken for more than a century.

Manon Sioui helps her father, Roland Sioui, during a game of Yawingo, a variation on bingo designed to teach numbers in the Wendat language to students in the Yawenda Project's classes. The project aims to revive Wendat, which hasn't been spoken for more than a century.

Photograph by: Francis Vachon, The Gazette

WENDAKE, Que. – It's shortly before 7 p.m. on Monday when the participants in a unique experiment in Canadian culture start filing into a classroom on this tiny reserve at the north end of Quebec City.

As they enter, they greet each other with traditional words of welcome in Wendat, their ancestral tongue.

Some say "kwe" (pronounced "kway"), others "ndio." Within minutes, class begins. For the next two hours, the 16 students - an equal number of men and women between the ages of 15 and 76 - talk, laugh, listen and learn a language that has been neither spoken nor heard on Earth for more than a century.

Welcome to the Yawenda Project - a million-dollar, federally funded initiative that aims to revive the use of Wendat as a second language on this reserve of about 1,500 people.

Launched in August 2007, the five-year project entered a crucial stage this month when two groups of students began taking once-weekly classes led by a handful of specially trained teachers who have learned - and continue to learn - how to speak Wendat. A third class is scheduled to begin in April.

In addition to providing adult reserve residents with an opportunity to learn, preserve and converse in their ancestral language, the project aims to create both a pool of trained teachers and a bank of pedagogical material that can be used to help preschool and elementary school students learn to speak Wendat.

It is, by any standard, a formidable task. But everyone The Gazette spoke with about the project seemed confident it will succeed.

Fifteen-year-old Jennifer O'Bomsawin, who is taking the course with her father, Luc, an Abenaki, is excited by the prospect of wowing her friends on the reserve by speaking their ancestral tongue.

"They think it's really cool and a few of them want to sign up," said O'Bomsawin, whose mother is Huron-Wendat. "This is really important to me. I'm proud of my native heritage, and language is such an important part of any culture. I want to learn to speak as much Wendat as I possibly can." "I can't think of anything that has generated so much interest and enthusiasm here as this language revitalization program," said Linda Sioui, one of Yawenda's principal organizers, one of its half-dozen trained teachers and a member of its all-important language committee, which okays everything from the use of teaching materials to the phonetic sounds and pronunciations of long-forgotten words.

Born in Montreal but raised here from the age of 9, when her Huron-Wendat father decided to move his family back home to his reserve, Sioui said she grew up wondering why the Huron-Wendats spoke French instead of their native language like many other First Nations peoples can and still do.

"Language is the essence of any culture (and) we want ours back," said Sioui, 49.

While the idea of trying to revive Wendat had long been talked about and dreamed of on the reserve, Sioui was one of the key instigators in discussions that would eventually lead to the birth of the Yawenda Project.

Both her sister, Manon, and her father, Roland, are enrolled in the Monday class, which began March 8. Roland expressed happiness at the opportunity to learn the language - despite the difficulty.

"It's hard," said the 76-year-old retired plumber and lifelong hunter and trapper. "But I hope to at least learn a few words that I can share with my grandkids, leave them something they can remember me by." Linda Sioui has spent much of her adult life studying her people's culture and language, much of which has been preserved in the field notes and dictionaries written by Jesuit priests who lived among the Huron-Wendat in the early years of New France. Studies and books about the Hurons and other Iroquoian peoples from a variety of sources have added to that base of knowledge.

"I like to say that Wendat isn't dead, it's dormant," said Sioui, who got a $25,000 federal grant in 1992 for a three-year program to locate, index and help repatriate Wendat archival materials to a documentation centre here. "And a lot of work has already been done to bring it back." Louis-Jacques Dorais agrees. An anthropologist at nearby Université Laval who teaches a Native American course that is popular with Wendake residents, he was approached four years ago by some community leaders who were hoping to garner support for an embryonic language revitalization project they would later name Yawenda - a Wendat word meaning voice.

"I was very skeptical about it at first," said Dorais, who nevertheless wrote a 50-page letter of intent - which was accepted - to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the federal grant-giving agency for research in the field through the auspices of a university (in this case Laval) and a lead researcher (Dorais). "Reviving a dead language is a daunting task. Apart from Hebrew in Israel, I don't know of any examples of where it is successful." Since the Yawenda Project began, however, he has discovered several similar projects in aboriginal communities across North America and Australia.

"It seems to be a big trend," said Dorais. "And they use the same methods as we are using here: archival materials like dictionaries made by missionaries, cross-references with similar dialects and languages, and the efforts of university researchers and linguistic experts to help create and build the materials needed to learn and teach languages." "I'm really surprised and impressed by the seriousness and the preparation of this course," said Yawenda student André Gros-Louis, a retired financial planner who spent much of his adult life working for the federal Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs. "It's interesting and very professional." That makes him optimistic, he added, about the program's chances of success.

"Our people have gone through many trials and tribulations, but we've survived. We're made of tough stuff," Gros-Louis said. "All my life I dreamed about learning to speak our language - and now I'm doing it. That fills me with pride and gives me hope for our future." Dorais said Yawenda is far more ambitious than other aboriginal-language projects in North America, in that it aims to revive a dead language rather than buttress living - albeit endangered - indigenous tongues.

He added that the project he finds most similar to Yawenda is one involving Kaurna, an aboriginal language from the Adelaide region of southern Australia that hasn't been spoken since the 1920s.

"They have achieved some good results," said Dorais. "People are using the language in official circumstances like funerals and civic ceremonies. However, it has not grown to the point where people use it in their everyday lives and their homes." Though everyday use of Wendat among Wendake residents is a long-term goal for Yawenda's proponents, Dorais said it will prove difficult because of the unique history and circumstances of the Huron-Wendat people.

Weakened by war, disease and the zeal of proselytizing Jesuits, the Huron-Wendats were defeated by their Iroquoian cousins in 1649 and driven from their traditional homeland in central Ontario - a region roughly bordered by the modern-day cities of Barrie and Orillia and the southern coastline of Georgian Bay.

Several hundred survivors fled west, eventually ending up in Oklahoma, where they are now known as the Huron-Wyandot. A roughly equal number who had converted to Christianity followed their French allies back to Quebec City, which they have since called home.

According to Dorais, the Hurons were highly sociable and integrated readily into the surrounding community over the past four centuries.

"They were in daily contact with French people and there was a lot of intermarriage," he said. "Over time their features have become much whiter and they eventually lost their language." He added that the last speakers of the Wendat language likely died in the 1870s.

"I don't think it was a conscious effort at assimilation," he said, "but rather a result of their openness to other people and the outside world." Despite their biological, linguistic and cultural blending with the surrounding French community, Dorais said they have managed to keep their identity as Wendat.

"It's fascinating," he said. "They're like the Scots - they still see themselves as allies of the French and English, and they expect respect and aid as a sovereign people." Those feelings, added Dorais, are driving the desire to resurrect their language. He said that same desire has made him a believer in the long-term chances of the Yawenda Project, which will have to either become self-financed or find alternative monies once federal funding ends in 2012.

"The Wendat people are survivors," he said. "I won't bet against them."

Linguist gives voice to ancestral Huron language

By Mark Cardwell, Special to The Gazette, March 26, 2010

Megan Lukaniec the main linguist and chief trainer at the heart of the Yawenda Project at the Wendake Huron Reserve that aims to resurrect the Huron langauge.

Megan Lukaniec the main linguist and chief trainer at the heart of the Yawenda Project at the Wendake Huron Reserve that aims to resurrect the Huron langauge.

Photograph by: Francis Vachon, The Gazette

WENDAKE – As a girl growing up in Norwalk, Conn., an hour’s drive north of New York City, Megan Lukaniec wasn’t all that interested in her aboriginal heritage or the postage stamp-size reserve near far-off Quebec City, where her father’s Huron-Wendat mother was from.

But as the main linguist and chief trainer at the heart of the Yawenda Project, the 25-year-old is now literally giving voice to the rebirth of her ancestral language.

“It’s a real honour for me to be involved like this – but it’s a lot of hard work, too,” Lukaniec said.

Soon after coming here in 2006 to study the Wendat language on a one-year fellowship from Dartmouth University in New Hampshire – where she did an undergraduate degree in a Native American program that “got me interested in my roots” – Lukaniec met Linda Sioui and other residents in Wendake who were busily planning the Yawenda language-revitalization project.

After enrolling in the master’s program in linguistics and anthropology at Laval University – from which she will graduate in June – Lukaniec was named linguist of the project.

Her job consists of reconstructing vocabulary and grammar using archival sources like the Jesuit Relations – a compilation of field notes written by priests who lived among the Huron-Wendat – and dictionaries of other Iroquoian languages that are similar to Wendat.

Notably, she studies the structure and phonetics of each word and advises the 10-member language council on their pronunciation. Once the council accepts them, she teaches them to the project’s instructors, who in turn teach them to students.

“It’s a huge job,” said Lukaniec, whose strategy is to build groups of words according to themes like numbers, colours, kinships, animals and everyday life. “I’ve done hundreds of words over the past 21⁄2 years.”

She added she is encouraged by the enthusiasm and goodwill of the people involved in Yawenda.

“People here are wild, crazy about this,” Lukaniec said. “The teachers in particular are so dedicated. They always want more and more. I have to push myself to stay ahead of them.”

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

MSC: Dallas future stars PlowBoy

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Monday, March 22, 2010

MSC: New Dana Cooper Tuneage!

New tunes from my buddy, the inimitable Dana Cooper . . . check it out

Band website hostingQuantcast

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Daily Silliness

the bad: my brackets all died excruciating deaths tonight; the good: a lovely, productive evening with Joe Gordon-Levitt and Sean Lennon


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Friday, March 19, 2010

OBTL Bert Winston

Bert F. Winston Jr.

services today at 2 p.m. at Grimes Funeral Home in Kerrville . . .

DENVER — Bert F. Winston Jr., husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, uncle and friend, age 76, died in a Denver hospital on March 7, 2010.

Memorial services will be on Friday, March 19, at 2 p.m. at Grimes Funeral Chapel in Kerrville.
Bert was born on Nov. 2, 1933, in Houston to Carroll Sterling Masterson and Bert Farmer Winston Sr. A fifth-generation Texan, Bert was proud of his Texas heritage as well as the years that he lived in Mexico City. As a child, the family moved to Mexico City, where his stepfather, Jack Cowan, was in charge of Westinghouse Mexico. Bert loved Mexico and, to this day, owned a ranch outside of Uruapan and had many lifelong friends from there.

Upon Mr. Cowan’s death in a tragic plane crash, the family moved to Kansas and then eventually back to Houston, where his mother later married Harris Masterson III. Bert attended The Kinkaid School, The American School in Mexico City, Culver Military Academy, Lamar High School and the University of Houston before entering the U.S. Army.

He married Lynda Hepinstall, began his family and then joined the Army Reserves before going into investments and real estate. When Lynda died unexpectedly, he married Barbara Wallace, and they had four more children. He married Deborah Dieringer Turner in 1993.

Bert loved the Houston Cougars and was an avid supporter of the university where he and his wife set up The Bert and Deborah Winston Scholarship Endowment for athletes at the school. He also was a member of the International Committee for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo for many years. In 1978, Bert moved to Hunt, Texas, where his grandmother had a summer home, which the family enjoyed for vacations and during the summers. He lived there until he moved to Segovia, Texas, about a year and half ago.

Bert owned and operated The Hunt Store for several years in the early 1980s, served on the boards for the Sterling-Turner Foundation and the Hill Country Youth Ranch and was a supporter of Schreiner University, the new Peterson Regional Medical Center, Friends and Faculty of Ingram Tom Moore High School, the Hunt VFD, as well as many other charities throughout the state.

Everyone who knew Bert knew what a wonderful sense of humor he had and how much he enjoyed having a good time. Some of his favorite things were collecting and showing classic cars, country swing music, good friends, watching sports, cold beer and Rush Limbaugh. He loved to laugh and always had a twinkle in his eye. Bert was known for being a kind and generous man, music producer, drummer, rancher, investor, philanthropist and genuine human being. What you saw was who he was. Bert’s legacy will go on and will carry on his spirit of generosity, sense of humor and love for life.

He will be greatly missed by his wife, Deborah Winston; his children, Chaille Hawkins and husband, Freddie, David Winston and wife, Larilyn, Bert Winston, III and wife, Pauline, Rosalind Newton, Blake Winston and Phillip Winston; and his stepson, Tyler Turner.

He is survived by his grandchildren, Carroll Schuler and her husband, Zach, Michael Hawkins and wife, Elizabeth, Rocky Winston, Cadi Hawkins, Braylon Winston, Jacob Newton, Erin Newton, Max Winston, Daniel Winston, Sterling Winston and his newest granddaughter born this week, Lilah Elizabeth Winston; as well as a great-grandson, Cole Schuler. Bert’s sister, Isla Reckling and her husband, Tommy, also survive, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
Bert was preceded in death by his parents, stepfathers and first wife, Lynda.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to any of the charities Bert supported or to the charity of your choice.

The family invites you to send condolences at by selecting the “Send Condolences” link.

Funeral arrangements are entrusted to Grimes Funeral Chapels of Kerrville.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

ATH: Madness begins . . .

here's a score you don't see often in basketball --

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

MSC: For the Sake of the Song

Documentary World Premiere "For the Sake of the Song: The Anderson Fair Story" at SxSW Wednesday at 4:30! Check out the gallery . . .

upper photo: courtesy Anderson Fair; lower photo: John Dean Domingue

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OBT: Sad Day . . .

Today Kelly Bryan reported on the passing of one of sweetest, finest ladies i've ever met, Pansy Espy. I don't believe there will ever be another quite like her. Kelly did a wonderful job of eulogizing her on the birding list-servs today, so i'll let him tell the story:

Texas and world birders,

It is with deep regret and great sadness that I announce the passing of Pansy Espy of Fort Davis. She was 94 years young. She was introduced to birds by her aunt (Lou Evans) in the early 1960s in the Gila River area of New Mexico and she started birding in the Fort Davis area during this same time. She was the first person to bird Madera Canyon (since Harry Oberholser) and the upper elevations of the Davis Mts. on the U up and U down Ranch, now the Davis Mts. Preserve. Don McIvor, former owner of that ranch, was at one time her son-in-law. Although the late Frances Williams started the local Christmas Bird Count here in 1959, Pansy first participated on December 20, 1968 (along with Jody Miller and Ro Wauer among others) and seldom missed a count until 5 or 6 years ago. She and Jody Miller published the first bird checklist for the Davis Mountains in 1973. She always enjoyed taking birders out to see her birds whenever they asked. Pansy was a close personal friend for the past 20 years and will be missed. Fortunately, I have a copy of her bird records and would like to highlight a few of her entries.

She was exceptionally excited to see a Swallow-tailed Kite over Fort Davis on a daily basis from August 25 to September 4, 1966. No one would believe the Common Black-Hawks she reported from the Davis Mountains. After several years of claiming such, Frances Williams scheduled a trip down to see for herself, or in her words to see the Zone-tailed Hawks. Sure nuff they were black hawks. She first noted Mountain Plovers on her ranch (on the flats) south of Fort Davis in 1973, and after noting their behavior, was sure they were nesting then. The first actual nest located here was near the highway in May of 1979 and the young birds were banded by Tony Gallucci on June 11, 1979. She monitored them annually until the last successful nesting in June of 1993. I was with her and photographed the last known chicks from the area on that trip. She never stated such but I could see the sadness in her in subsequent years as the plover population eventually disappeared.

For those of you who have had the opportunity to bird in Madera Canyon and the Davis Mts. Preserve, the stream flowed year round until the early 1990s. On October 6, 1969 Pansy found American Dipper at the old Fisher Place just downstream from Hwy 118. She later told me she actually had 2 that day but thought no one would believe her if she reported them both in her notes! One of the most dynamic entries in her journal was the Black-capped Vireo. She was on the H. C. Espy Ranch off the Boy Scout Road on May 5, 1977 and it reads "I was creeping through the underbrush when I found this warbler-sized bird singing like mad. I yelled to Jody (Miller) - come help me identify a small bird with a black head, black face, strong eye-ring, yellow wing bars and white breast. Jody couldn't get there before I lost him but I had seen a Black-capped Vireo in the creek below Duncan Lake. What an excitement!" Pansy was responsible for the discovery of the White-eared Hummingbirds in upper Limpia Canyon. In June of 1993 she called me and said come go with me to the mountains. She took me to the cabin of Clyde and Ruth Ann Smith where I photographed two adult females and one sub-adult individual on June 20. That is less then 1/4 mile from my property. I was happy to show her several lifers, among them the adult male Cape May Warbler in Davis Mts. State Park one spring. But the one I will remember most was the Greater Pewee that wintered in Limpia Crossing a few years ago. She sat in the car over an hour as I was photographing that individual.

I would like to suggest donations to the TOS preserve fund in her honor, especially for those of you with a past association with her. If any of you would like to send a card to the family, email me and I will get a proper address for you. Be sure to mention that you are a birder. It would be nice if the birding populace responded in volume to show just how much we loved her.
Kelly B Bryan
Fort Davis, Texas

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Monday, March 15, 2010

ENV: State of the Bird World

'State of the birds 2010' highlights threats to migrants

Climate change threatens to further imperil hundreds of species of migratory birds, already under stress from habitat loss, invasive species and other environmental threats, concludes a new report released by United States' Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change, follows a comprehensive report released a year ago showing that that nearly a third of the nation's 800 bird species are endangered, threatened or in significant decline.

"For well over a century, migratory birds have faced stresses such as commercial hunting, loss of forests, the use of DDT and other pesticides, a loss of wetlands and other key habitat, the introduction of invasive species, and other impacts of human development", Salazar said. "Now they are facing a new threat - climate change - that could dramatically alter their habitat and food supply and push many species towards extinction."

The report is the product of a collaborative effort as part of the U.S. North American Bird Conservation Initiative, between federal and state wildlife agencies, and scientific and conservation organisations including partners from National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the U.S.), the American Bird Conservancy, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. It shows that climate changes will have an increasingly disruptive effect on bird species in all habitats, with oceanic and Hawaiian birds in greatest peril.

"Just as they did in 1962 when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, our migratory birds are sending us a message about the health of our planet", Salazar said. "That is why - for the first time ever - the Department of the Interior has deployed a coordinated strategy to plan for and respond to the impacts of climate change on the resources we manage."

Audubon President, Dr Frank Gill commented, "This groundbreaking report must be a rallying cry for the millions of people who care about birds and nature. It took countless citizen and professional scientists to gather the data that made the report possible and it will take even more committed people to address the peril it reveals. Together we can alter the future, just as Audubon has done for more than a century."

"This groundbreaking report must be a rallying cry for the millions of people who care about birds and nature" —Dr Frank Gill, Audubon (BirdLife in the U.S)

Key findings from the 'State of the Birds' climate change report include:

* Oceanic birds are among the most vulnerable species because they don't raise many young each year; they face challenges from a rapidly changing marine ecosystem; and they nest on islands that may be flooded as sea levels rise. All 67 oceanic bird species, such as petrels and albatrosses, are among the most vulnerable birds on Earth to climate change.

* Hawaiian birds such as endangered species Puaiohi Myadestes palmeri and ’Akiapōlā’au Hemignathus munroi already face multiple threats and are increasingly challenged by mosquito-borne diseases and invasive species as climate change alters their native habitats.

* Birds in coastal, arctic/alpine, and grassland habitats, as well as those on Caribbean and other Pacific islands show intermediate levels of vulnerability; most birds in aridlands, wetlands, and forests show relatively low vulnerability to climate change.

* For bird species that are already of conservation concern such as the Golden-cheeked Warbler Dendroica chrysoparia, Whooping Crane Grus americana, and Spectacled Eider Somateria fischeri, the added vulnerability to climate change may hasten declines or prevent recovery.

* The report identified common bird species such as the American Oystercatcher Haematopus palliatus, Common Nighthawk Chordeiles minor and Northern Pintail Anas acuta that are likely to become species of conservation concern as a result of climate change.

"The dangers to these birds reflect risks to everything we value: our health, our finances, our quality of life and the stability of our natural world", said Audubon's Glenn Olson. "But if we can help the birds weather a changing climate, we can help ourselves."

The report offers solutions that illustrate how, by working together, organisations and individuals can have a demonstrable positive impact on birds in the U.S. Specifically, the report indicates that the way lands are managed can mitigate climate change and help birds adapt to changing conditions. For example, conserving carbon-rich forests and wetlands, and creating incentives to avoid deforestation can reduce emissions and provide invaluable wildlife habitat.

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COM: Oops . . .

thanks to the judge for these . . .

i'm not sure i would quit drinking . . .

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GSQ: Leading Ladies opens at The Point

Ken Ludwig's Leading Ladies opens this Friday, March 19, at the Point Indoor Theatre in Ingram

HCAF hosts a reception in the Gallery Friday
celebrating the Sticks & Stones exhibition starting at 6PM
- stop by the gallery on your way to the play!

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Friday, March 12, 2010

NAT: Dying Languages

Only seven can speak dying language

Ms Eunice Sirankasio displays the Yakunte dictionary. Ms Sirankasio has been distributing the dictionary, a glossary of Yakunte words translated into the Maasai language, in an effort to preserve the language of her Yaaku people. Photo/MWANGI NDIRANGU

Ms Eunice Sirankasio displays the Yakunte dictionary. Ms Sirankasio has been distributing the dictionary, a glossary of Yakunte words translated into the Maasai language, in an effort to preserve the language of her Yaaku people. Photo/MWANGI NDIRANGU

Posted Friday, March 5 2010 at 22:30

The death of an elderly woman last week may have gone unnoticed to many, but to those fighting to preserve the culture of the Yaaku community, it was a big blow. Not many Kenyans have heard of the Yaaku community in Laikipia North district, or the fact that their total population is just 6,000.

The Yaaku have been struggling to keep their culture, language and tradition alive, and the death of their matriach, Ms Naruato Matunge, aged 105, could not have come at a worse time. Until two weeks ago, Ms Matunge was among the only remaining eight people who could speak pure Yaaku language — Yakunte — fluently without using words borrowed from the Maasai community, which is dominant in their region.

In fact, her grandson, Manasseh Rux Ole Matunge, himself a Yaaku and a Yakunte speaker, is now struggling to revive the language. All the seven people left alive who speak the language are aged over 70. Yakunte speakers occupy two administrative areas; Mukogondo and Sieku locations, and are represented in Parliament by Mwangi Kiunjuri of Laikipia East.

“There are only about 30 whom I can call semi-speakers because they can communicate in Yakunte only to a certain extent. The rest can only respond to a word or two,” says Mr Matunge. According to an official of Yaaku People Association, Gabriel Sipuko, the Yaaku have four clans spread in Laikipia North district. The four clans are Orondi, Sihalo, Losos and Luno, which is the smallest.

According to Mr Sipuko, said there are about 4,000 people with Yaaku genes but pure Yaaku people are slightly over 1,000 in number. “We are about 1,500 pure Yaaku but we still cannot communicate in our Yakunte language,” said Mr Sipuko, adding: “We still consider our language inferior to the Maasai and I am sure even if the language was to be taught in schools, many would still prefer to speak Kimaasai and Kiswahili.”

Evidently, Yakunte is among the languages which have since been declared endangered by the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation. The Yaaku people resemble the Cushites of northern Kenya but in the last one century, they have been assimilated into the Maasai culture and lifestyle that they have discarded the language of their forefathers.

They are believed to have migrated from Ethiopia and settled in Mukogodo forest over 100 years ago. In terms of physical appearance, including the hair texture, there is a noticeable resemblance between the Yaaku, Rendile and Borana, who are cushites unlike the Maasai who are nilotes.

“My father and mother are both Yaaku but I only know a few words from this language. I am very fluent in Maasai language and in the past few years, I have been struggling to learn my mother tongue with little success,” says Ms Eunice Sirankasio. Ironically, Ms Sirankasio heads the campaign to have pupils at local schools learn the language of their ancestors together with her husband, Mr Matunge.

The mother of five has been distributing what she calls a Yakunte dictionary where words are translated to Maasai language. The dictionary was produced three years ago by a Dutch researcher, Fleur Wensveen, through assistance of one of the three remaining women who could speak the Yakunte language fluently led by Ms Yapanoi Moraati.

Sadly, Ms Moraati died in 2008 aged over 100 years and today; only one woman, Ms Riano Leitiko, can speak the language among the seven remaining Yakunte speakers. The remaining Yaaku elderly men and women are convinced that after their demise, the language will die since children and youth are not interested in learning it.

“We have been teaching children of Kuri Kuri Primary Schools located near Dol Dol town the language but, honestly speaking, many do not seem interested,” confesses Ms Sirankasio. Though she knows the meaning of several Yaaku words, she cannot construct a sentence in the language of her parents who live about five kilometers from Dol Dol town, the headquarters of Laikipia North.

But her father, Leteyon Leitiko, speaks the language fluently and is among the elders who have been visiting pupils in neighbouring schools to encourage them to learn the language. “Our language and culture are considered inferior to the Maasai and that is why many children are not willing to learn it because they think it is of no use,” says the 70-year old elder.

He adds that the launch of the “Yakunte dictionary” was aimed at encouraging youngsters to learn the language but no strides have been made towards that direction. “My own grandchildren do not show any enthusiasm whenever I try to teach them the language,” says the elder who speaks Swahili, Kimaaasai and Yakunte languages fluently. But why did the Yaaku abandon their culture and traditions?

According to documented research carried out by various local and international researchers, the Yaaku people were hunters and gatherers who lived in Mukogodo forest located about 10 kilometers from Dol Dol town. When the Maasai, who are pastoralists, were pushed out of their vast grazing lands by white farmers at the beginning of last century, they drove their animals to Mukogodo forest in search of pasture. It is here they came into contact with the hunters and gatherers, their staple food being honey.

The Maasai people derogatorily referred to them as Ntorobo, meaning poor people who do not own livestock. The Maasai could ask men from the Yaaku to herd their livestock and this way, the forest dwellers came to admire the language of the intruders. According to documents compiled by Mr Maarten Mous, linguistic researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Hans Stoks, pastoral worker with the Maasai in Kenya, and Matthijs Blonk, a filmmaker, the Maasai traded in milk and meat for honey.

But in this trade, the Maasai were the ones who stated the terms because of their military superiority and eventually, the Yaaku people started copying the lifestyle of the pastoralists. Eventually, when they were fully assimilated to the Maasai culture, they moved out of Mukogodo forests and some started keeping cattle.

However, they still value honey as their staple food and consider Mukogodo forest as their rightful home. Among the seven people who speak fluent Yakunte is Stephen Leriman Leitiko, who was, however, not co-operative when the Saturday Nation sought to speak to him. “I have vowed that anyone who wants me to speak the language must pay me first,” Mr Leitiko said as he dismissed efforts to have an interview with him.

Other elders still alive are spread across Dol Dol and Nandung’oro areas of Laikipia North district. They include Kitarpei Matunge, Roteti, Legunia, Jomo Lelendola and Kitime. Over the years, they have watched their children and grandchildren abandon their culture to become fully adapted to the Maasai.

According to Mzee Leitiko, the young generation is ashamed of their Dorobo origin and struggle to hide anything that might disclose their historical origin. The name Dorobo has gained the meaning and now refers to people who live in the in the forest. According to the research documented by Mr Mous, the Yaaku are not the only Dorobo in East Africa.

In Kenya there are the Ogiek, Akiek and Aasax or l’Aramanik, and other small marginal peoples who try to live off the land, like the Dahalo. Over the years, the Yaaku have not taken education seriously and only a few have gone past primary education.
One of the prominent people from the community is the Ms Jennifer Koinante, who was a teacher before she founded Yaaku Peoples Association seven years ago.

She also vied for a parliamentary seat in 2007 but lost. Another prominent person from the community is Mr Peter Matunge, who was a district officer in Kirinyaga district before he moved to a state corporation. Ms Koinante has been articulating the rights of minority groups in international fora, her main concern being the preservation of the Yakunte language and Mukogodo forest.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

ENV: Photographing the World's Rarest Birds

The World's Rarest Birds through the lens 08-03-2010

A new international photo competition covering the world's 623 most threatened birds has just been launched. This is a follow-up to the photo competitions that led to the production of the highly acclaimed Rare Birds Yearbooks 2008 and 2009.

The photos submitted for the new competition will feature in a landmark publication – The World's Rarest Birds – which will be produced by the not-for-profit publisher WILDGuides next year. The proceeds will be donated to BirdLife International's Preventing Extinctions Programme, as was the case with the Rare Birds Yearbooks.

The World's Rarest Birds will be a lavishly illustrated hardback book, covering the 362 species categorised as Endangered and 65 that are Data Deficient, as well as the 192 Critically Endangered species and the four species that are Extinct in the Wild and only now exist in captivity. It will be a comprehensive directory of the world's most threatened bird species and include specially written feature articles on the key bird conservation issues in each of the world’s regions.

Orange-bellied Parrot

"Over the past two years we have received a lot of constructive feedback from our readers about how they would like to see Rare Birds Yearbook develop", said editor Erik Hirschfeld. "The World's Rarest Birds incorporates the best of these enhancements while still supporting conservation. Our prime concern continues to be helping to prevent the extinction of the most threatened birds in the world by raising funds and promoting awareness."

"It seems very fitting that The World’s Rarest initiative has been launched in 2010 – the year proclaimed by The United Nations as the International Year of Biodiversity" —Ade Long, BirdLife International

All photographs submitted for The World's Rarest Birds photo competition will be entered into a prestigious international photographic competition, with some excellent prizes generously provided by the key sponsors Minox and Lynx Edicions. Anyone who has photos of any of the 623 species on the list is encouraged to enter the competition at The closing date is 31 August 2010.

"We are delighted to be involved in working with Erik Hirschfeld and BirdLife in producing The World's Rarest Birds", said Andy Swash, Managing Director of WILDGuides. "Although it will be a beautiful book, its key message is poignant – one in eight of the world's bird species being threatened with extinction. This is a great concern to many and I just hope that the production of The World's Rarest Birds will help to raise awareness and make some contribution to their conservation."

Ade Long, BirdLife's Head of Communications said, "It seems very fitting that The World’s Rarest initiative has been launched in 2010 – the year proclaimed by The United Nations as the International Year of Biodiversity. The Rare Birds Yearbook was a fantastic success and I have no doubt that The World’s Rarest Birds will build on it and be even more influential. Who better to take up this photo challenge than the BirdLife Partnership and our millions of supporters?

For more information on The World's Rarest Birds, the photo competition, and lists of the species that are Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered and Data Deficient, visit:

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

NAT: Photo stolen for hatred

Longhouse Media condemns illegal use of "March Point" photo in hate crime
Native leaders in U.S and Canada demand protections for Native youth

SEATTLE -- Longhouse Media Executive Director Tracy Rector today condemned the illegal use of a copyrighted photo of three teenagers from the Swinomish, Grand Ronde, and Lummi Tribes in Washington that was used in a hate crime against First Nations and Native American youth.

"We are appalled by the use of our image for such hateful and demeaning purposes," said Rector, responding to an advertisement that appeared on a Canadian online news site. "The photo of the three adolescent boys was taken from promotional material for our film March Point, an award-winning documentary," said Rector. "The film was made with three young filmmakers and tells the story of their coming of age struggles in a Native American community in the U.S. That this image would be used for such deviant ends is deeply hurtful to these young men and their families, and to the Native community as a whole."

The advertisement headlined "Free Native Extraction Service" was placed on the website. The website is managed by Victoria-based company called Black Press. They operate a network of websites (47 in total) under the brand.

Referring to Native youth, it began: "Have you ever had the experience of getting home to find those pesky little buggers hanging outside your home, in the back alley or on the corner???" It goes on to offer "free extraction services to relocate them to their habitat," and continues with other offensive remarks.

"We condemn this as a hate crime, and will join with others to see the perpetrators are brought to justice," said Rector. "This ad could intimidate and incite violence against indigenous youth in North America, and we are joining with Manitoba Chiefs to call for an end to hate crimes such as these. We must all stand together to protect our youth."

Chairman Brian Cladoosby of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community said, "We are saddened by the fact that some people still harbor extreme hatred toward Native people as this advertisement demonstrates. But we are also encouraged that many more people recognize this as a racist attack on a generation of Native American youth who for the most part are law-abiding citizens striving to overcome generations of poverty and oppression, and live productive lives. We hope that calmer heads prevail and that the individuals responsible for posting this ad are prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

While not an act of physical violence, it is one of intimidation and threat. According to the Criminal Code of Canada, "a hate crime is committed to intimidate, harm or terrify not only a person, but an entire group of people to which the victim belongs. The victims are targeted for who they are, not because of anything they have done. Hate crimes involve intimidation, harassment, physical force or threat of physical force against a person, a family or a property." Section 319(1): Public Incitement of Hatred, Criminal Code of Canada

Author and poet Sherman Alexie, a founding board member of Longhouse Media from the Spokane and Coeur d'Alene Tribes also spoke out, saying, "As much as the world has changed for indigenous people in good ways, there are still many violent and hateful folks out there who seek to harm us, and we must condemn them in print and in action, and we must do this together."

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

ENV: Rockhoppers

Saving rockhopper penguins

Rockhopper penguin populations are in serious decline worldwide, and the causes have been largely unknown. BirdLife is launching a new report which identifies the key threats, and outlines the steps which must be taken to help save rockhopper penguins. "At last, in this new report we have an international action plan to address the catastrophic declines of rockhopper penguins", said Professor John Croxall - Chairman of BirdLife's Global Seabird Programme.

Rockhopper penguins live in the Indian, South Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There are two distinct species: Northern Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes moseleyi (Endangered) and Southern Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes chrysocome (Vulnerable). Both these species have been disappearing from the southern oceans.

In the past 37 years alone, Northern Rockhopper Penguin has decline by 57% and Southern Rockhopper Penguin by 34%.

"With a catastrophic 95% loss of Northern Rockhopper Penguin since the 1950s, the new BirdLife report comes just in time to give hope that the downward trend in numbers of this charismatic bird might be reversed", announced Professor Croxall.

Experts from across the globe met in Edinburgh (Scotland) to discuss the declines and to outline the research and conservation actions which are urgently needed. The results are presented in the new publication which provides all the latest scientific information in a comprehensive review which highlights potential causes of the declines such as climate change, pollution, changes in the marine food web, disease and fishery interactions.

Importantly, the report sets out the steps which must be taken to help save them. "Gaps in knowledge on many aspects to the rockhopper penguin's life cycle have to be resolved for effective conservation steps to be taken in order to reverse its population decline", added Prof. Croxall. "These need tackling as a matter of urgency."

“Implementation of this report will require long term funding” —Professor Croxall

International action is called for so that the actual and potential impacts of these factors can be properly researched and addressed. Regional priorities for action are outlined for Tristan da Cunha, the Patagonian and Pacific Ocean regions and Chile. These include population counts, research on survival, breeding, and diet and potential interaction with priority threats in the marine environment such as pollution, fisheries, shifts in nature and location of resources.

The authors outline that the recommendations cannot be implemented unless adequate funding is provided. "Implementation of this report will require long term funding, particularly for demographic research and international collaboration", concluded Professor Croxall.

Governments, institutions, scientists and all individuals concerned about penguins need to read this report and help undertake its recommendations, ideally by supporting an international programme to safeguard the future of these very special penguins.

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