Learning English as a second language isn't necessarily something that is reserved for refugees and other newcomers to the United States.
Lacee Harris, a Ute Indian from Utah, told a gathering of some 80 Japanese high school students this week that even Native Americans or Indians find themselves facing the same language and cultural challenges that impact visitors and others in the United States for the first time.Harris demonstrated his point with introductory remarks in his native Indian language, much to the bewilderment of the young Japanese students who are involved in an intensive two-week English program at Westminster College.
Harris noted that for many Indians, English is the second or third language that they learn. They also spend their early life influenced culturally by their Indian heritage only to be confronted with a new culture and language when they go off to school for the first time.
Harris told the visitors not to use movie Indians as a model for American Indians. He said movies have painted a picture that distorts historical facts.
"We (Indians) are Americans and we welcome you to our land," Harris said. "We welcome you as we welcomed the white men when they came 400 years ago."
Harris said most Americans, let alone visitors to the United States, do not have a true perspective of the role Indians have played in developing this country. He said Indians were involved in all of the wars fought in the United States, fighting alongside the colonists during the Revolutionary War and fighting on both sides during the Civil War. He said Indians also fought gallantly in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and in Vietnam.
The young visitors were also told of the role Indians have played in the formation of the U.S. government, the development of the world's food supply and the discovery of medicines that now play an important role worldwide.
"Over half the world's food supply comes from Indians in North, South and Central America," Harris said. "Almost 45 percent of the medicines we now use were discovered by and first used by Indians."
The American form of government was also influenced by Indians, Harris said. He said Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson modeled much of the governmental structure outlined in the Constitution on the government forms used by the Iroquois Indians who had a two-house council and a person serving in a capacity similar to that of the president.
While the students appeared mildly interested in the talk, their eyes were wide when Harris began producing Indian artifacts and explained their use. The students were especially impressed with the weapons, eagerly wav-ing the artifacts for the camera as they posed in group pictures with Harris.
The students also showed enthusiastic curiosity during the question and answer portion of the session as they wanted to know about the size of Indian families, Indian religious beliefs, marriage ceremonies, Indian words that have entered the English language - and where Harris gets his beads.
Harris laughed at the last question, noting that the days of making their own from porcupine quills are gone and that most Indians now buy their beads at the store.