Sun’aq Tribe to open Alutiiq immersion school for children

The Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak will be able to build an Alutiiq language program for preschool-aged children with the help of a grant it just received.

The tribe has been influential in bringing Alutiiq language learning to the Kodiak Island Borough School District and Kodiak College.

Candace Branson, the tribe’s Alutiiq heritage educator, said last week Sun’aq learned that it won a five-year, $400,000-per-year grant from the Administration for Native Americans.

The program will enable a whole new generation to be immersed in Alutiiq language with a teacher and a teacher’s aide dedicated to that mission, Branson said.

“Our community has been working on language revitalization since the 1960s, and this grant is a huge honor and a huge responsibility for the Sun’aq Tribe, and I really look forward to doing our best and moving forward with the language revitalization movement.”

Branson said connecting with her ancestral language has helped her form an identity within the Native community, and there are other benefits to learning the Alutiiq language.

“In terms of broader scales outside of my experience, we know that learning your indigenous language helps with the effects of historical trauma, so it can be something that relates you to a positive aspect of your culture rather than just seeing the alcoholism and the abuse and the historical trauma effects that happen as a result of our history,” she said.

Learning a second language makes a person’s brain more active, Branson said. Various sources, from studies to articles, have made connections between language learning and increased mental performance.

The language nest will serve the same age group as a preschool and the teacher and teacher’s aide will instruct two days a week, four hours a day, Branson said. By the end of the third grant year, the language nest will run five days a week, and may eventually require enrollment fees in order to pay the instructors and maintain a sustainable program.

Sun’aq is currently taking applications for both the teacher and teacher’s aide positions, and classes should be ready to begin in January, Branson said.

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