The Nez Perce Language Program has developed free apps for Apple and Android devices to help people learn and retain the language. The apps are easy to use and feature the voice of a Nez Perce tribal elder speaking more than 1,000 words and phrases. Everything from full sentences like “The coyote is laughing” to colors, numbers, plants and animals are featured on the app.
“Everybody’s got a phone nowadays,” Thomas “Tatlo” Gregory, language coordinator for the program, told The Lewiston Tribune. “Now they have a tool they can use on their own when they just want to find a quick word.”
The language program is based in Lapwai, Idaho and secured funding for the app in its annual budget, which was approved by the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. The program developed the app with the help of Ogoki Learning Systems, a software design company that specializes in creating smartphone and tablet apps that teach Native languages.
Gregory, along with fellow language coordinator Bessie Walker, and language technician Rich Ramsay Jr. spent about five days putting the app together, reported The Lewiston Tribune.
“Each phrase that you have, each word, has to have a button. You have to place it on there in its category,” Gregory told the Tribune. “It gives you a blank screen and you put your (button) where your button is going to be, and put what words are going to be in there. So you had to do that for every single recording.”
They wanted the app to be simple to use. When a user opens the app, it gives a list of categories to choose from, the user chooses the category they need, then the list of words or phrases pops up.
“People need simplicity or they’re not going to mess with it,” Gregory told the Tribune. Now, with the creation of the app, the language is back “in the home,” Gregory continued. “That’s where the transmission of the language really got damaged, is in the home. And trying to figure out ways to get it back in the home is really challenging for us.”
Darrick Baxter, Anishnaabe founder of Ogoki, told the Tribune that the app cost between $4,500 and $5,000 to release on Android, and between $6,500 and $7,000 to release on Apple.
Ogoki Learning Systems
Darrick Baxter, an Ojibway programmer and founder of Ogoki Learning Systems.
“It’s available to everybody now,” Ramsey told the Tribune, and all three agreed it was important to spread the Nez Perce language.
“We’re still here. We’re still alive in our language,” Walker told the Tribune. “The heartbeat of our culture is our language.”