Sealaska Awards Grants to Invigorate Indigenous Language and Culture

JUNEAU, Alaska – On Friday, July 24, 2020, the Sealaska board of directors approved $300,000 in grants to support the revitalization of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian traditional languages. This is the first major investment made possible by the $10 million language endowment that was authorized by the board in November 2019.

Ben Young teaches Xaad kil (Haida language)
immersion classes in Hydaburg, Alaska.

“Our indigenous languages hold our people’s ancient ingenuity,” said Chairman Joe (Kaaxúxgu) Nelson. “Language connects, roots and grounds us. We are fortunate to have so many people dedicating their lives to this work and partners helping pull in the same direction.”

One of three approved grants directs funding toward creating fluent language speakers for all three Southeast Alaska indigenous languages: Lingít (Tlingit), Sm’algyax (Tsimshian), and X̱aad Kíl (Haida).

In Alaska, very few birth speakers of these traditional languages remain. All are older than 70, and a majority are 80 or older. The group includes four birth speakers of Sm’algyax, three birth speakers of X̱aad Kíl, and 63 birth speakers of Lingít.

“Supporting and prioritizing advanced second-language learners is critical,” said Richard (Chalyee Éesh) Peterson, president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. “We have limited time. We must act now to create new, young, adult fluent speakers while the birth-speaking Elders are still with us.”

The second grant will support the audio and video recording of 20 oral narratives from the book, “Haa Shuká, Our Ancestors: Tlingit Oral Narratives” by Nora and Richard Dauenhauer. The recordings will help learners to listen, read and write in Lingít.

“The values perpetuated in these narratives are universal,” said David (Kingeistí) Katzeek, a traditional tribal leader of the Shangukeidí (Thunderbird Clan) for more than 40 years. “The narratives embody the high order of being a human being. One cannot learn Lingít language without learning the values, behavior and character of being Tlingit.”

Benjamin (K’uyáang) Young, 34, grew up in Hydaburg and has committed his life to preserving the X̱aad Kíl (Haida) language. He has served as a language mentor, researcher and curriculum developer.

“Language holds a distinct place at the center of who we are as people,” said Young. “It is the pulse of our future — a continuous reminder that no matter where we roam, our spoken word brings us home.”

The third grant is will support developing curriculum for the community of Hydaburg’s Xaadas Kíl Kuyaas Foundation to continue learning and preserving the X̱aad Kíl language. The curriculum will be developed during an immersion camp and will be used to support language learners into the future.

Sealaska’s $10 million Language Revitalization Fund is expected to generate $500,000 in grants annually to invigorate indigenous languages over the next decade.

ABOUT SEALASKA

We are Sealaska, the Alaska Native regional corporation for Southeast Alaska formed under federal law in 1971. With more than 23,000 shareholders of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian background, our purpose is to strengthen our people, culture and homelands. We invest in and operate businesses that improve the health of our oceans, maintain healthy homelands in Southeast Alaska, and benefit shareholder communities. Learn more at Sealaska.com and https://www.sealaska.com/community/speak.

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