andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Fri Jun 17 17:16:40 UTC 2005
Program is 'nest' for Native languages
By ERIC FRY JUNEAU EMPIRE
Learning Tlingit has changed the lives of the 10 or so young adults in
Juneau who have dedicated themselves to the language, one student says.
"We had fairly life-changing experiences when we took it to heart to
keep the language going, because of the Tlingit concept of respect,"
Vivian Mork said.
Mork said Tlingit wasn't spoken fluently in Wrangell when she grew up
She began to study Tlingit after moving to Juneau in 2002 to enroll in
a summer language program, Kusteey, sponsored by Sealaska Heritage
Institute. She also enrolled at the University of Alaska Southeast,
which has a Tlingit program.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit that administers
cultural and educational programs for Sealaska Corp., the for-profit
Native corporation in Southeast Alaska.
Classes in the Kusteey Program, now in its seventh year, begin this
year as early as June 20 in Ketchikan and Aug. 1 in Juneau.
"Kusteey" refers to way of life, or culture.
The Kusteey Program helped instill the importance of learning Tlingit,
Mork said. She called the program a "nest" for languages.
"When you lose the language, you lose an entire way of looking at the
world," she said.
Now some of the Tlingit-language students are beginning to teach it.
That was one of the program's goals.
This past school year, Mork and Jessica Chester taught Tlingit as an
elective to about 90 students at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School.
The middle school students, about half of whom were Native, were
required to study their family history and learn to introduce
themselves in Tlingit by referring to their ancestors.
"The really neat thing is when Native students start to learn the
language and start to learn about themselves," Mork said.
In about 10 years, the elderly fluent speakers of Tlingit will be gone,
Mork said. To save the language, it has to become the language of
children, she said.
"For a language to survive, it must have a mother-tongue acquisition,"
she said. "It must be spoken in the home and learned at a young age,
and used every day."
Sealaska Heritage will offer language classes in Tlingit, Haida and
Tsimshian this summer. Students can receive college credit for
completing the classes, which are co-sponsored by UAS.
All three languages will be taught in Ketchikan. The Juneau program
offers courses in Tlingit, second-language teaching methods and
developing Tlingit-language materials.
Tlingit-language immersion retreats are scheduled for Angoon and
Haines, as well.
The summer program attracts students who are committed to learning a
Native language through a variety of ways, such as university courses
in the regular school year and community discussion groups, said Yarrow
Vaara, a language specialist at Sealaska Heritage.
"This is just another opportunity for them to explore that," she said,
but in a concentrated way.
The summer courses use a teaching method called total physical
response. The idea is that the students, who are mostly adults, will
learn a second language the way a baby learns its first language: by
being spoken to in the language and responding with actions that show
Students become comfortable with the language before they speak it,
This is the third and final year for the immersion retreats, which have
been funded through a federal grant, Sealaska Heritage officials said.
Students speak only in Tlingit during the retreats, which are scheduled
for July 5-14 in Angoon and Aug. 15-24 in Haines. The retreats are
best-suited to intermediate students, Vaara said.
"The first couple of days it's just like trying to learn how to talk
all over again," she said. "It's reprogramming your brain."
Click here to return to story:
André Cramblit: andre.p.cramblit.86 at alum.dartmouth.org is the
Operations Director Northern California Indian Development Council
NCIDC (http://www.ncidc.org) is a non-profit that meets the development
needs of American Indians
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