To increase the number of fluent Tlingit speakers under 60 years old by 300 percent over three years, the Sealaska Heritage Institute has received a federal grant to fund a Tlingit language Mentor-Apprentice program in Southeast Alaska.
The $454,828 grant comes from the Administration of Native Americans for Language Preservation and Maintenance and will establish the mentor-apprentice program that will work toward perpetuating and revitalizing the language.
“We now have teachers, we have language learners, and we have material, and so this is absolutely a great event for us to be able to now have a formal program,” SHI President Rosita Worl said in a release.
The Bridging Challenges to Fluency Through Partnerships: Establishing a Tlingit Mentor-Apprenticeship Program—the project’s official title—will create six mentor-apprentice teams that will engage in 260 hours of one-on-one language immersion every year for three years.
SHI estimates there are just 200 Tlingit speakers left, but the institute is hopeful because there are so many students learning the language. According to the Juneau Empire, Worl has said it’s important for the next generation of language learners to achieve the next level of Tlingit fluency so they are able to teach. It’s important not only to preserve the language, but because language is tied to cultural preservation.
“All languages reflect their world views,” she said. “And there is a lot of knowledge and experience embedded in that language. And for our human society that’s been around for thousands and thousands of years we want to be able to capture and preserve that knowledge.”