There are four local public school districts that serve large populations of Native American students living on area Indian Reservations: Gowanda, Niagara-Wheatfield, Akron, and Salamanca.
Students and parents in those districts — both indigenous and non-indigenous — have been demanding a Haudenosaunee language option for several years. While those public schools offer coursework in French, German, and Latin, they do not offer instruction in the Seneca or Tuscarora language, despite a significant portion of the student body in those districts being of Seneca or Tuscarora heritage.
Other school districts with significant Haudenosaunee populations have faced the same demands for indigenous language options, including in Nedrow, near Syracuse, and Hogansburg, in the North Country.
And it’s not just indigenous students who are interested in studying indigenous languages. Several of the State’s wealthiest and least diverse school districts — including Carmel, Scarsdale, and Great Neck — have been looking into the prospect of providing an introductory course in local indigenous history and language, with the aim cultivating greater multi-cultural understanding.
It’s estimated that there are fewer than 5,000 fluent speakers of Haudenosaunee languages, and great efforts have been made over the last two decades to preserve those and other Native American languages from extinction.
While school districts have been receptive to providing this indigenous language instruction, identifying and recruiting these fluent linguists will be a challenge — given the short supply.