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The Yakutat Tlingit Tribe of Alaska plans to grow the number of language speakers by developing a program that focuses on teaching children its native tongue called Yaakwdaat Lingít Haa Yatx'i Jeeyís, or "For Our Yakutat Tlingit Children."

The tribe hopes to increase resources for its future Lingít language immersion activities and build stronger speaking skills for its community and families as a result of receiving funding from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

Community members in the Yakutat Tlingit project aim to accomplish the following with this language restoration program:

-          Strengthen the Lingít language mentor program.

-          Develop curriculum for future language immersion activities for children from two to seven years old.

-          Create a Lingít language smart phone application.

-          Offer a three-credit Alaska Native Languages course through a partnership with the University of Alaska, Southeast.

-          Host weekly community language sessions.

This year’s language preservation grants for Alaska-based projects totals just over $1.1 million in first-year funding for four Native American language projects. Other grants are being awarded to the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and the Native Village of Kotzebue.

ACF’s Administration for Native Americans (ANA) is awarding approximately $4.4 million in new grants to preserve Native American language and culture. The recipients include 13 projects ($2.6 million) funded through the Preservation and Maintenance program, which provides grants for curriculum development, teacher training, and technology used to disseminate and preserve Native American languages. Another eight grants totaling $1.8 million will be awarded through the Esther Martinez Immersion program, which provides funds for immersion-based language training. In addition to these 21 new language grants, more than $8 million will be awarded to 36 previously approved grantees to continue multi-year projects.

“Time is of the essence for many of these communities facing dwindling numbers of native speakers. We want to invest in preservation and revitalization while tribes and native communities still have access to these individuals who are fluent in their traditional languages,” said ANA Commissioner Lillian Sparks Robinson.

ANA encourages applicants to involve elders and other community members in determining language preservation goals and implementing project activities. These grants focus on preserving and enhancing Native language and culture. Preservation projects help promote cultural awareness by developing language curricula, training and certifying language instructors, and offering intergenerational mentoring activities between youth and elders.

In addition to providing grant funding, ANA is working with federal partners in the Departments of Education and Interior to coordinate resources and support for Native American languages. These agencies hosted a Native American Language Summit in June that attracted nearly 300 participants from as far away as Guam and Alaska to discuss how the federal government can better support native languages. ANA and the Departments of Education and Interior will continue to actively engage tribal leaders and native organizations to provide feedback and ideas on how federal programs can work together more efficiently and effectively to improve native language learning in schools and community programs.  

ANA was established by the Native American Programs Act of 1974 (NAPA) and provides discretionary grant funding for short-term community-based projects (averaging one to three years) that result in social and economic benefits supporting healthy children, families and communities. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs recently forwarded a bill that would reauthorize funding for Native languages to the full senate.