Sealaska Heritage Institute through its Scholarship Committee has chosen a well-known language advocate and assistant professor of Alaska Native languages as the 2016 recipient of its annual Judson L. Brown Leadership Award.
The recipient, Lance (X’unei) Twitchell, has helped to lead a high-profile effort in recent years to revitalize Alaska Native languages. As an assistant professor of Alaska Native languages at the University of Alaska Southeast, he has pushed to develop Haida and Tsimshian language classes; to create systemic changes in the university, our communities and organizations; and to increase attendance in language classes. In his first two years at UAS, attendance in Alaska Native language classes rose by 150 percent. He also was a key member of a team that secured passage of House Bill 216, which made Alaska the only state in the U.S. other than Hawaii to officially recognize its indigenous languages.
The $5,000 scholarship goes to students who have demonstrated academic achievement and leadership skills, said SHI President Rosita Worl, adding only one person wins the annual award.
“Lance is a rising star and leader in the realm of Native language revitalization. He is working in our institutions to bring systemic change, and he is teaching the Tlingit language to his children at home,” Worl said. “For the first time in many, many years we are witnessing the existence of bilingual children who speak their Native language along with English. Lance is not only doing that himself, he is forging a path to help other young parents raise bilingual children.”
In 2015, Twitchell was accepted into the Ph.D. program in Hawaiian and Indigenous Language and Culture Revitalization at the Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke’elikölani (College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawai’I at Hilo).
“The program at Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke’elikölani is the only indigenous language revitalization doctorate program in the world,” wrote Twitchell in an essay. “My studies there will create increased opportunities for Alaska Native language revitalization.”
The leadership award comes from an endowment established in 2006 through a $100,000 donation from Chris and Mary McNeil. It was named for Chris McNeil’s uncle, the late Tlingit leader Judson Lawrence Brown, who was a forceful advocate for education and leadership development. The endowment is administered by Sealaska Heritage Institute.
SHI also administers a scholarship fund which announced nearly $416,000 in scholarships this year.