Language, says Kim Christen, “is really about relationships. Languages bring to life relationships to other human beings, to ancestors, to ancestors that aren’t human, to landscape, to histories, stories—to knowledge.”
Christen is a professor of digital technology and culture and director of the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation at Washington State University. The Center develops collaborative projects between scholars, students, and diverse community members, with an emphasis on ethical curation and equitable access. One of the projects is the co-curated and managed Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal, a trove of Native American culture and a resource for teachers and community members working together to revitalize Native languages and cultures.
Christen prefers the term revitalization to preservation because, she says, “preservation conjures the idea that these materials and languages are not ongoing, critical parts of living cultures.” The word also invokes a past in which the U.S. government simultaneously sought to document disappearing Native languages while, “at the same time, they were promoting genocide.”
That, says Christen, was “a perverse notion of preservation.”