Native Language Immersion Initiative
Language is a vital asset for Native people and communities. It defines who we are, where we come from, and the value systems that in many ways cannot be translated into English.
Language is a core part of who we are as Indian people.
Each of us has our respective languages that connect us to our place of birth,
teach us how to pray, and show us who we are as Indian people. Language is sacred.
– Benny Shendo, Jr., First Nations Board Chair
To stem the loss of Indigenous languages and cultures, First Nations launched the Native Language Immersion Initiative (NLII) in 2017 as a three-year project to support Native nations and organizations actively leading American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian language immersion programs.
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 United States. The initiative is now extending to a fourth year thanks to ongoing support from individual contributions, as well as funding from:
- National Endowment for the Humanities
- Lannan Foundation
- Kalliopeia Foundation
- NoVo Foundation
- Wells Fargo
- Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation
There are currently about 150 Native languages spoken in the US, 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.
Four Years of Strengthening Native Language
Through this 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. 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. Scroll down to learn about NLII grant recipients in each round of funding.