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Census Finds Less Than a Half-Million Native American Language Speakers

Census data shows that there are only a half-million people who speak a Native American language fluently, and most are Navajo.
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According to a December 14th Associated Press story, Navajo is the most spoken Native American language with 169,000 speakers. But Evangeline Parsons Yazzie, a Navajo professor at Northern Arizona University, says that figure can be misleading because there are more than 300,000 Navajos in the United States.

“Navajo has the largest population, they say, of Native speakers, but it also has the largest population of non-speakers,” she told the AP Wednesday. “And it kind of presents a skewed picture.”

Another startling figure from the Census data shows that while most Native Americans and Alaska Natives over 65 speak their language, only one in 10 people age 5 to 17 do.

“That’s one thing all Indian nations suffer from,” Yazzie told the AP. “Youth are ashamed of that because it caused a lot of harm. They internalized it. ... Now we’re trying to turn that around and say, ‘The languages are beautiful.’”

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Read the full Associated Press story, on the Washington Post website.