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.