Tohono O’odham Community College- Post Four

Informed optimism is the best phrase I can come up with to describe Tohono O’odham Community College outside of Sells. Unsurprisingly, TOCC has a small campus set in the middle of desert landscape across from a seeping mountainside. Surprisingly (at least to me), the facilities were well kept, newish, and most importantly, expanding. The faculty we spoke with all eagerly mentioned the new amphitheater under construction, along with plans to expand dorm facilities and make them more accommodating to their increasing and increasingly wide spread student body. On top of all this, the school even boasted a competitive basketball team, which has sent several players to division one schools, according to the faculty.

In terms of my topic of interest, O’odham language, the college seemed to place a high importance in the revival and survival of O’odham. In addition to language programs the partner with the local high schools, the college also offer classes in the O’odham language free to the Tohono O’odham people. The language fulfills language requirements both at the college and at many four-year universities, making this an attractive offer to prospective students of the language. At least at the college, a vested interest in reinvigorating the Tohono O’odham language exists.

All this is not to say that challenges don’t exist. At least for the O’odham language, most students come in with little to no experience before teaching. This implies that the language either isn’t being spoken among the wider O’odham population and/or that there’s little to no intergenerational communication with or about the language with the youth. Furthermore, studies on the prevalence of the language are outdated, with none being undertaken in at least the last ten years. Finding teachers also presents a challenge, as many O’odham speakers just don’t feel comfortable enough to teach. Despite these rode blocks, the O’odham language, and the TOCC, both are in good shape for growth if they continue their current trajectories.

3 Replies to “Tohono O’odham Community College- Post Four”

  1. Like many other languages Tohono O’odham is on the endangered list with a whole host of selecting agents marking it for extinction. I personally believe that it is possible to pull such languages back from the brink. This, however, will take a tremendous act of will on the part of the T.O. community and creative measures still to be devised.

  2. Patrick,

    I also came out of the meeting at Tohono O’odham community college with a sense that they were proud of what they had accomplished already, but were eying bigger and better things for their future. I was also encouraged by the fact that they were putting such a heavy emphasis on the language. From the several talks we have attended I have gotten a sense that the language is slowly dying, but the community college could serve as a force to combat that. Without the language, a huge part of the O’odham culture and history would be lost, as language captures so much of who we are.

  3. Good observations here about the school and its role in preserving the language. Thinking about languages like O’odham whose speakers live surrounded by other dominant languages, it is difficult to imagine how they can survive long term. Yet I do feel that there is a lot of value in giving it the best shot possible.

    I know I keep bringing this up, but I truly hope that TOCC can find a way to partner with a professional language app company to develop an on-line course suitable for mobile devices. Along I’ve reading a little about Duolingo’s initiative to build lesson plans for endangered languages. This is a story about how that’s working for Navajo (Diné)

    I don’t think that a Duolingo course in O’odham would be enough on its own, but I feel it would go a long way toward getting people started on it, not to mention the effect of actually bringing speakers together to create the course.

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