Preserving Native Culture through the Power of Native Language

LONGMONT, Colorado (January 21, 2021) – For the fourth year in a row, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is continuing its Native Language Immersion Initiative (NLII) with the awarding of nine grants to Native-led organizations and tribes building language in their communities through immersion programs.

First Nations launched the initiative in 2017 as a three-year project to support Native nations and organizations actively working to stem the loss of Indigenous languages and cultures through Native language immersion. The initiative was made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which provided a $2.1 million challenge grant that First Nations matched thanks to generous support from multiple foundations and many individual donors across the U.S.

Now – with ongoing support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Kalliopeia Foundation, NoVo Foundation, Wells Fargo, Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, and many individual contributions – the initiative is extending to a fourth year to support the continuing demand and needs of Native language immersion programs.

“The number of grant applications First Nations receives every year for language programs is a testament to the importance of cultivating and preserving Native languages,” said Michael Roberts, First Nations president and CEO. “People recognize that Native language is critical not just for passing down knowledge, but for fostering pride and culture, which is the foundation of Native resilience and success.”

Since the NLII began, more than 30 Native organizations and tribes have received over $4 million in funding to build the capacity of and directly support their Native language immersion programs. The fourth year of the initiative brings funding to these additional nine grantees:

Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation (Porcupine, SD) – $90,000
This organization will create a Lakȟóta Montessori-themed preschool curriculum and will design 20 authentic Lakȟóta stories that will be used in all classrooms and instruction. The organization will also launch the “Unci Stories” mobile application, and will redesign and rebrand their current Montessori through Adult curriculum.

Ke Kula ‘O Pi’ilani (Wailuku, HI) – $90,000
The goal of Ke Kula ‘O Pi’ilani is to increase language acquisition, literacy, and fluency by implementing a tutoring program and resources. The program will also conduct professional development trainings and Hānai ʻAi workshops to produce traditional food-making implements to learn, practice, and utilize the language, along with Ka Piko Kaiao program classes to increase language and cultural fluency.

Lower Sioux Indian Community (Morton, MN) – $90,000
With this funding, the community will increase language instruction for teachers and staff, hire a Language Teacher Apprentice to increase the number of language teachers, and create and record family language materials to increase parent and community language acquisition. The community will also expand total immersion instruction at the Cansayapi Wakanyeza Owayawa Oti School.

Pueblo of Sandia (Bernalillo, NM) – $90,000
Through the Tiwa Language Program, this organization will provide instruction to children and adults, and develop electronic resources and hand-made materials to utilize in language learning. Materials will be catalogued and made available by check out or via the intranet. In addition, six tribal members will complete the Philosophy of Indigenous course online through the Indigenous Montessori Institute.

Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College (Baraga, MI) – $90,000
Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College will develop and implement permanent signage, obtain resources for all facilities, and complete 16 teach-the-teacher training sessions for faculty and staff. The college will also implement weekly Nookomis/Mishomis teachings, develop and implement curriculum, and incorporate language use into community programs.

Northern Arapaho Tribe (Ft. Washakie, WY) – $90,000
The tribe will continue with the Arapaho Language acquisition project and will recruit three more apprentices. All apprentices will be assigned a master teacher to learn the language, speak Arapaho, and understand its importance to the Arapaho. Project participants will speak the language by teaching students using lessons developed through the project term.

Kulaniakea (Honolulu, HI) – $90,000
The project team for Kulaniakea will create a comprehensive curriculum plan and corresponding educational materials. They will produce three prototypes of educational materials and accompanying lesson plans. They will then pilot-test and evaluate the lesson plans and educational materials with preschool-aged children and parents.

Oneida Nation (Oneida, WI) – $90,000
Through this project, two contracted immersion trainees will achieve second-level speaking ability and comprehend all Oneida language vocabulary, and language nest students will increase their proficiency of the Oneida Language. Further, an outdoor learning classroom will be installed for students to foster connections to land, develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and increase language retention as assessed by staff observations.

Lakota Waldorf Society (Kyle, SD) – $90,000
The Lakota Waldorf Society will continue work to ensure that all students receive Lakota language instruction, not counting daily conversational interactions during lunches, recesses, and other situations. They will also ensure that every student participates in a play, knows four songs, and can demonstrate familiarity with the stories of the plays and that all teachers and staff attend weekly Lakota language workshops.

About First Nations Development Institute
For 40 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States. For more information, visit

Program Contact:
Kendall Tallmadge, Senior Program Officer or (303) 774-7836