Sealaska Heritage Institute has received a federal grant to fund a Tlingit language mentor-apprentice program in Southeast Alaska.
The $454,828 grant from the Administration of Native Americans for Language Preservation and Maintenance will establish a Tlingit mentor-apprentice program that works towards perpetuating and revitalizing the Tlingit language. SHI will partner with fluent speakers, advanced Tlingit learners, and three Southeast communities to increase the number of fluent Tlingit speakers under the age of 60 by 300 percent over three years.
“We now have teachers, we have language learners, and we have material, and so this is absolutely a great event for us to be able to now have a formal program,” said SHI President Rosita Worl.
The project, Bridging Challenges to Fluency Through Partnerships: Establishing a Tlingit Mentor-Apprentice Program, will create six mentor-apprentice teams to engage in 260 hours of one-on-one language immersion each year for three years and participate in annual Tlingit immersion retreats that will rotate between the partners’ villages.
Pairing mentors and apprentices in immersion language environments has proven to build fluent language speakers for other cultural groups. A committee will be formed to develop and refine curriculum materials to help guide the language teams.
While there are estimated to be only 200 Tlingit speakers remaining, there are many students learning the language. It’s important, Worl says, that these language learners achieve the next level of Tlingit fluency and that they are able to teach. Preference for the mentor-apprentice teams will be given to those who have some language skills and who have been involved in teaching or developing language curriculum.
Worl emphasized that language preservation is directly tied to cultural preservation.
“All languages reflect their world views,” she said. “And there is a lot of knowledge and experience embedded in that language. And for our human society that’s been around for thousands and thousands of years we want to be able to capture and preserve that knowledge.”
Sealaska Heritage Institute was founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.