The Comanche Nation is facing a challenge unique to the tribal culture. They are slowly losing the Comanche language. Currently there are only about 100 people who speak the language, and the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger classifies it as severely endangered. With only 20 Comanche elders left to pass on the language, the tribe faces the real possibility that future generations will not learn the language.
Comanche Nation College in Lawton wants to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“The Comanche language is dying so fast. If we can’t teach students the language, the tribe will lose their language altogether,” said Dr. Consuelo Lopez, president of the college. “Without the language, there is no tribe.”
To prevent this from happening, Dr. Todd McDaniels, a professor at the college, has designed innovative training modules to teach the language to their students. The modules incorporate everyday activities into the lessons to teach students words they can take back and teach their families at home.
The college’s vision is for the modules to be taught at colleges across the nation. Currently the modules are only taught at Comanche Nation College, but their vision will soon be a reality thanks to a new high-speed fiber network that will enable colleges across the state to upgrade their technology and reach students they haven’t been able to reach until now.
This new network, the Oklahoma Community Anchor Network (OCAN), is a result of $74 million grant Oklahoma received in August 2010 from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. OCAN will offer high-speed broadband services to rural and underserved Oklahoma.
Three agencies have partnered to implement the grant. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is overseeing construction of the network, and the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services is managing the financial aspects of the project. OneNet, a division of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, will operate the network once it is complete.
OCAN’s fiber network will encompass 1,005 miles, reaching 35 Oklahoma counties. The network also will connect 32 community anchor institutions, including state colleges, universities, hospitals and local libraries, to the state’s existing networks. Comanche Nation College is one of the community anchor institutions, who will be directly connected to the network.
As soon as Dr. Lopez and her faculty learned about the network build-out, they began developing plans that would utilize the new network to create opportunities for their students and reach students in other areas of the state and across the nation.
“We were so elated when we heard about the network,” said Dr. Lopez. “The technology will move us leaps and bounds beyond other colleges like us.”
The college has already begun to upgrade all of their technology to take advantage of their new high-speed Internet connection. With the upgraded technology and high-speed connection, they will be able to partner with other tribal colleges to offer their Comanche language modules online. The new network will remove the barriers to reaching students across the state and the country.
“There are lots of doors to open that we haven’t been able to access in the past,” said Paula Lemons, information technology director for the college. “We now have the keys to open those doors.”
Colleges and tribal organizations like Comanche Nation College will be able to connect to the OCAN network through OneNet, Oklahoma’s only statewide Internet service provider. Other educational institutions, health care providers, public services and nonprofits will also have the opportunity to connect through OneNet.
Through OCAN, OneNet will create opportunities for rural Oklahoma communities that simply didn’t exist until now. “It is exciting to know that this new network will ensure our state’s rural communities have the same opportunities for technical advancement as the metropolitan areas,” said Sonja Wall, OneNet’s OCAN program manager.
Dr. Lopez agrees. “High-speed fiber networks are so critical to institutions in this day and time,” she said. “When we envision what we can do, it’s exciting.”