Current Projects

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-year grantees here.
  • See the October 26, 2018, announcement of the second-year Request for Proposals here.
  • See the April 12, 2019, announcement of the second-year grantees here.
  • See the April 15, 2019, announcement of the third-year Request for Proposals here.
    • Read a related November 2, 2018, blog about revitalizing the Crow (Apsáalooke) language, by Dr. Janine Pease, 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 initiative. 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. In April 2019, First Nations announced the second-year grantees.

2019 Grantees

Chickaloon Village Traditional Council, Chickaloon, Alaska, $90,000

This project will expand upon current efforts to revitalize the Ahtna language at the Ya Ne Dah Ah or “Ancient Teachings” Tribal School. With this grant, the tribe will create new culture and language curriculum to meet Alaska’s requirements in the areas of history, science and social studies.

Euchee Yuchi Language Project, Inc., Sapulpa, Oklahoma, $90,000

The project will restore the vitality of the Yuchi language through The Yuchi House, a year-round language-immersion program for students grades K-12. Additionally, this grant will be used to produce an archive of Yuchi language videos and assist with tribal language instructor certification.

Friends of the Akwesasne Freedom School, Rooseveltown, New York, $89,320

This teacher training program will increase the capacity of current and new teachers of the K’anienkeha (Mohawk) language. Master language educators will develop a training program for 10 new elementary school teachers and teacher aides that focuses on the Akwesasne Freedom School’s unique language curriculum.

Keres Children’s Learning Center, Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, $90,000

Keres Children’s Learning Center, Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, $90,000 – This project will provide expansive professional development to nine teachers through one-on-one and group training sessions on language acquisition, language immersion, cultural knowledge and advocacy. Additionally, this funding will be used to purchase supplies and other materials for elementary classrooms that have recently doubled in size.

Nisqually Indian Tribe, Olympia, Washington, $70,836

This project will help preserve and promote tribal traditions through the development of a Nisqually Lushootseed-specific language curriculum. With this grant, the tribe will develop and publish 200 new resources, including Lushootseed alphabet and language books. Additionally, the tribe will train up to four more Lushootseed language teachers and create a Lushootseed font application.

Northern Arapaho Tribe, Fort Washakie, Wyoming, $90,000

This project will support the development of a master-apprentice language program to educate and empower Northern Arapaho tribal members. Tribal elders will develop Arapaho language curriculum (i.e., Arapaho words, phrases, stories, history and conversational pieces) that they will share with prospective Arapaho language teachers who will, in turn, share that knowledge with students.

Oneida Nation, Oneida, Wisconsin, $89,954

This project will increase the number of proficient first-language speakers within the Oneida community by creating an immersion-only classroom that utilizes the current On^yote’aka Tsi Nitwaw^not^ and Head Start “As it Happens” curriculum. Twenty students will participate in this language program. Their parents are also required to attend bi-monthly classes and pass a basic assessment to foster an at-home language environment for their children.

Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, $90,000

This project will build the organizational and professional capacity of the Yaqui Language Immersion Program. Eleven teachers will engage in the study and practicum for their professional development as language instructors.

Salish School of Spokane, Spokane, Washington, $90,000

This project will provide Salish training to four interns recruited and hired from among parents of current students at the Salish School of Spokane. Interns will participate in 60 hours of evening/weekend Salish classes per year, with the goal of eventually hiring them as Salish immersion instructors.

Standing Rock Community Development Corporation, Fort Yates, South Dakota, $90,000

The project will utilize the newly created immersion curriculum to pilot educational best practices in the classroom, create an immersion teacher training strategy, increase access to high-quality professional development, and leverage existing staff and resources to transition from a program of Sitting Bull College to a community serving school through the Standing Rock Community Development Corporation.

Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, Porcupine, South Dakota, $90,000

This project will provide 26 language instructors with professional development training. Additionally, this grant will be used to open a second Lakota Immersion Childcare Center to provide immersion education to 15 more Lakota students.

Wolakota Waldorf Society, Kyle, South Dakota, $86,174

This project will utilize new and existing resources to provide language immersion to 50 to 60 children in grades K-8. With this grant, it will set up an outdoor classroom to introduce students to indigenous plants. It will develop curriculum to teach words and phrases about traditional plants, fruits, tools and ecology. It will also be used to provide professional development training, and encourage parent and community engagement.

Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, Mashpee, Massachusetts, $90,000

This project lays the groundwork to expand the Wôpanâak’s language immersion school to the 8th grade. The school currently serves students from pre-K through 4th grade. With this grant, the school will partner with five regional colleges and universities to provide comprehensive state and tribal language teacher certification. This will allow the school to recruit and hire new language teachers.

2018 Grantees

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.