Native Language Immersion Initiative

 

Native Language Immersion Initiative

One of First Nations Development Institute's newest efforts, launched in late 2017, is the Native Language Immersion Initiative (NLII). It aims to build the capacity of and directly support Native American language-immersion and culture-retention programs. Under NLII, First Nations is seeking to build a dialogue and a community of practice around Native language-immersion programs and consensus on and momentum for Native language programs. The effort is made possible through $2.1 million in funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, with matching funding for year one of the three-year initiative from the Lannan Foundation, Kalliopeia Foundation and the NoVo Foundation. The initiative includes American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian language programs.

There are currently about 150 Native languages spoken in the U.S., many of them spoken only by a small number of elders. Without intervention, many of these languages are expected to become extinct within the next 50 to 100 years, which means a significant loss of cultural heritage. Language retention and revitalization programs have been recognized as providing key benefits to Native American communities by boosting educational achievement and student retention rates. They also support community identity, Native systems of kinship, and management of community, cultural and natural resources. Language learning gives rise to many positive social, cultural and economic impacts and, further, it can be life transforming, promote individual healing, and lead to cultural revitalization through the transmission of cultural values and knowledge that cannot be taught otherwise. Language learning can also create career opportunities in communities that are otherwise limited, and promote a spiritual connection with ancestry.

Through this new initiative, First Nations seeks to stem the loss of Indigenous languages and cultures by supporting new generations of Native American language speakers, and establishing infrastructure and models for Native language-immersion programs that may be replicated in other communities.

  • See the original August 3, 2017, announcement of this initiative here.
  • See the November 1, 2017, announcement of the matching funders here.
  • See the January 23, 2018, announcement of the first-year Request for Proposals here
  • See the July 6, 2018, announcement of the first grantees here.
  • Read a related January 18, 2018, blog about the value of Native languages, by Richard Williams, here.

In July 2018, First Nations announced the 12 inaugural grantees under the first year of the three-year iinitiative. Each grantee received $90,000 in funding to build the capacity of and directly support its Native language-immersion and/or culture-retention program. These grants are aimed at supporting activities such as curriculum development, technology access, and recruitment and training of teachers.

The grantees were:

  1. Chickaloon Native Village, Chickaloon, Alaska. The Ahtna Nekenaege' Ugheldze' Ghitnaa Pilot Project will serve Pre-K-8 students of the Ya Ne Dah Ah Tribal School. After the passing of the last fluent language speaker/teacher, the Chickaloon Village Tribal Council prioritized the preservation of cultural lifeways through the implementation of a curriculum and testing assessment standards developed over the past three years for Ahtna culture and language immersion instruction.
  2. Kama’aha Education Initiative, Hilo, Hawaiʻi. The project will be guided by the rediscovery of Hawaiian scientific terminology and concepts found in ancestral texts and their integration into Pre-K-12 school curriculum, online resources and training for Hawaiian language immersion teachers. The goal is to provide culturally-responsive teaching grounded in Hawaiian knowledge in order to better support student learning in the subject areas of language, math and science.
  3. Keres Children’s Learning Center, Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico. The goal is to expand and increase the capacity of staff to develop children, ages 2.5 to 6, into healthy, responsible, Keres-speaking adults in the primary Keres immersion classroom. Training will be provided in best language immersion and Montessori practices and by refreshing the classroom materials and equipment to better nurture and revitalize the Keres language, culture and traditions.
  4. Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College, Baraga, Michigan. The project, Indooziitaamin, will primarily focus on the Migiziinsag preschool program. It will strengthen the current program through increased use of language and cultural activities, and will prepare teachers to encourage more frequent Ojibwe language use by providing recurring training, evaluation and a curriculum. Additionally, family-oriented events will be held to promote language use between community members and increase cultural awareness. 
  5. Nez Perce Tribe, Lapwai, Idaho. The project will create a formal immersion training program for future Nez Perce language teachers, who will serve students in preschool through college in the three main on-reservation communities of Lapwai, Orofino and Kamiah/Kooskia. The key points of this project are mentoring, job and life shadowing, curriculum methodology, curriculum development, and professional development training.
  6. Ohkay Owingeh, Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico. The project offers an additional opportunity for tribal members age 6-17 in the public and tribal schools’ current language immersion programs to continue Tewa immersion through after-school programs. Programs include connecting with tribal elders through mentoring activities, community service, and cultural-retention activities. Language immersion will be provided by community members who have obtained the tribe’s certification as Tewa teachers. 
  7. Oneida Nation, Oneida, Wisconsin. The tribal language department will expand the Oneida immersion program to include the 10-16 students in the Oneida Head Start. This class will be structured to utilize On^yote’aka Tsi Nitwaw^not^ and Head Start “as it happens” curriculum objectives, along with additional cultural components, and to serve children in a setting where Oneida is the first language they learn.
  8. Salish School of Spokane, Spokane, Washington. This project will increase intergenerational use and transmission of Salish language. This will be achieved by expanding the Salish immersion school programming from K-5 to include grades 6 and 7, deepening and expanding the Salish immersion teacher training program, sustaining the Salish language training program for parents and community members, and creating new Salish language math, science and literacy materials.
  9. STAR School (Painted Desert Demonstration Project), Flagstaff, Arizona. The project will intensify the Navajo language immersion efforts in early childhood (ages 3, 4 and 5). The Alchini Bighan (children's house) serves 36 Navajo children and follows the Montessori model of "learn by doing" with the language immersion approach that entails conversational learning rather than direct instruction. In addition, the project will provide a six-day Diné language immersion camp for students in grades 1-8 that will focus on plant knowledge and traditional food.
  10. Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, North Dakota. The project will create a comprehensive, coherent Pre-K immersion curriculum based on Dakota/Lakota immersion activities and materials developed since 2012, The curriculum will serve teachers and students at Lakho’iyapi Wahohpi orany D/Lakota preschool or daycare centers interested in creating an immersion environment, along with parents and community members who want to support language learning in the home.
  11. Waadookodaading, Inc., Hayward, Wisconsin. The Agindamaadidaa! (“Let’s Read!”) project will develop a sequence of Ojibwemowin leveled reading books that will align with new Ojibwe literacy assessments being developed. Leveled readers match a student’s reading ability level, or “lexile,” with texts written at that level. Although these are commonly available for reading series in English, this will be the first series in Ojibwe. The focus of the first readers will be sets for students in K-1, 2-3 and 4-5.
  12. Wopanaak Language and Cultural Weetyoo Inc., Mashpee, Massachusetts. Mukayuhsak Weekuw Wôpanâôt8ây Pâhshaneekamuq supports expansion of the Wôpanâak immersion language nest (preschool/kindergarten) to serve lower elementary students (grades 2-4) through teacher certification and fluency training, parent literacy development, and comprehensive planning to ensure a family and community-driven school design grounded in Wampanoag culture. Community planning will engage all four Wampanoag tribes and governing councils who contribute to the vitality of WLRP’s immersion and other instructional programs serving 4,000 citizens among the greater Wampanoag Nation in southeastern Massachusetts.