William & Mary

Colton O'Connor: Ko-was-saa-ti Aa-ti-ha Kos-nap: Preserving the Language of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana

Stacy, Joe and I act like birds with some of our Coushatta friends!Along with Professor Jack Martin, Stephanie Hasselbacher, and Joe Kessler, I spent three weeks in southwest Louisiana attending and conducting workshop sessions with members of the native Coushatta Tribe, a nation of fewer than 800 people.  The Coushatta have a unique language, Koasati, which until 2007 was purely oral.  Tribal members have worked with only a couple of outside academics in order to generate an alphabet and a written form of Koasati.  This was the first step in a large endeavor to preserve and protect their language from becoming extinct.

While many elders do not speak English, the adults are mostly bilingual.  Coushatta children today frequently do not speak any Koasati, or use just a few phrases around the home.  With a workshop of Indians, we spent several weeks investigating Koasati and learning all we could about it.  In that summer we developed the first 20 or so chapters of a brand new introductory Koasati textbook aimed at middle schoolers.  As a group, we also produced numerous picture books, coloring books, movies, and games for teaching Koasati to infants.  The fruits of our efforts are currently in use in the wide Indian community.  More instructional tools like these are being made by the Coushatta year-round based on the models we developed.