For many indigenous people around the world, language learning as peacebuilding comes in the form of fighting to learn and keep one’s native language in the face of political, social and cultural oppression. In Okinawa, an island annexed by Japan in 1879, language is key to revitalizing Okinawan culture and identity.
Of course, learning endangered languages can become a strong political statement in situations like this where the dominant language also represents an occupying government. While fighting for identity and culture through language, it is easy to push those on the other side of the language divide even further away, as shown by some of the comments on the Washington Post article cited above.
How could learning indigenous languages continue to be used to strengthen the voices of occupied peoples, but also build understanding and empathy between occupied and occupying peoples? Perhaps there is an important role for people from the dominant culture group to learn the indigenous language, even if they have no related family heritage. Perhaps advocating for language rights and multilingual policies for all could be a way. Or perhaps building awareness of the rich history and culture associated with indigenous languages could draw in the “other” to the need for language learning.
As language educators and learners, however, any issues of language rights should draw our attention and support for all who are trying to build peace in their communities through language learning.