The Village of Igiugig is on the receiving end of a sizeable grant to support their efforts to preserve and revitalize the Yup’ik language, specifically the Iliamna Lake dialect.
On several occasions, Congress has recognized the need to reverse the decline of surviving Native American languages. Funding has been set aside to help tribes and communities restore Native languages and see them taught to younger generations. The Village of Igiugig applied for such a grant and found out last week they would receive money to create a Yup’ik immersion program.
“I think that we were funded because even though the Yup’ik language itself is fairly strong in Alaska, there’s little documented on the Lake Iliamna dialect,” says AlexAnna Salmon, the village’s tribal administrator.
Salmon says there are fewer than 25 speakers left in the region, and they’re all elderly. There were five elders in Igiugig who spoke Yup’ik fluently when the village applied for the grant last spring; by the time they received notification of the award, there were four.
The nearly $900,000 grant, which is awarded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will pay for a three-year effort to save the elders’ knowledge of the language.
Salmon says the village is working to create a mentor-apprentice program for the elders to work with learners one on one.
“For the apprentices, we’re targeting young parents. They will become fluent working with the elders. Everyone will be paid for their time,” Salmon says.
She says the apprentices will become language instructors over the first two years. By the third year, they plan to create an intensive preschool program. The village hopes to add additional Yup’ik language training programs in the future.
This grant was part of a total $4.2 million package awarded to 17 tribes in the Lower 48, Hawaii, Guam, and three in Alaska: Igiugig, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, and Chickaloon.
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