Guidelines for Strengthening Indigenous Languages
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Pictured on cover: Elder
Anna Katzeek teaches Tlingit to students in the Douglas Headstart Tlingit
Language Immersion Project. Photo by Peter Metcalfe.
Assembly of Alaska Native Educators
February 6, 2001
Published by the Alaska Native Knowledge Network
Also available in downloadable PDF
These guidelines are sponsored by:
The following guidelines offer suggestions for our Elders, parents, children
and educators to use in strengthening their heritage language with support from
the Native community, schools, linguists and education agencies. It is essential
that we speak our own languages in our daily lives to help us instill pride,
knowledge and respect in our children. Language learning takes dedication, persistence,
devotion, motivation and support from everyone living in the community. By laying
out these guidelines, we hope to set a foundation that will help us continue
learning and promoting all of our languages.
The guidance offered in the following pages is intended to provide assistance
to the local language advisory committees created under Senate Bill 103 that
are responsible for making recommendations regarding the future of the heritage
language in their community. The underlying theme is, to keep a language going,
we must use it in our daily activities at home and in the community so that
it is transmitted and acquired naturally. The schools serve a supportive role
by providing appropriate language immersion programs that strengthen the language
used in the community. It is hoped that these guidelines will promote the daily
use of indigenous languages throughout Alaska and that our educational institutions
will support us in perpetuating our languages.
Native educators from throughout the state contributed
to the development of these guidelines through a series of workshops and
meetings associated with
the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative. Representatives of the Native educator
organizations listed on the first page of this booklet participated in the
and ratified the final document. While there are special meanings that are
sometimes used to distinguish between "indigenous languages" and "heritage
languages," the terms are used interchangeably in this document to refer
to languages that originated in the particular region in which they are used
(indigenous) and are the embodiment of the cultural heritage of that region.
Using these guidelines will expand the knowledge base and range of insights
and expertise available to help schools and communities nurture and pass on
their cultural heritage with respect and integrity.
Throughout this document, Elders are recognized as the
primary source of language expertise and cultural knowledge. The identification
of "Elders" as
culture-bearers is not simply a matter of chronological age, but a function
of the respect accorded to individuals in each community who exemplify the
and lifeways of the local culture and who possess the wisdom and willingness
to pass their knowledge on to future generations. Respected Elders serve
the philosophers, professors and visionaries of a cultural community. In addition,
many aspects of cultural knowledge can be learned from other members of a
who have not yet been recognized as Elders, but seek to practice and teach
local lifeways in a culturally-appropriate manner.
Along with these guidelines are a set of general recommendations aimed at
stipulating the kind of steps that need to be taken to achieve the goals that
have been outlined, as well as reference material to assist in that endeavor.
State and federal agencies, universities, school districts and Native communities
are all encouraged to review their policies, programs and practices and to adopt
these guidelines and recommendations wherever appropriate. In so doing, the
educational, linguistic and cultural development of students throughout Alaska
will be enriched and the future well-being of the communities being served will
Further information on issues related to the implementation
of these guidelines, as well as additional copies may be obtained from the
Alaska Native Knowledge
Network, University of Alaska Fairbanks, P.O. Box 756730, Fairbanks, AK 99775-6730
Guidelines for Native Elders
Respected Native Elders are the essential resources
through whom the heritage language of a community and the meaning it is intended
to convey can be learned.
Native Elders (and other fluent speakers) can strengthen the use of their
heritage language through the following actions:
- Keep the heritage language alive by using it as much as possible in everyday
activities and in ceremonial events.
- Assist younger speakers of the heritage language in expanding their fluency
to deeper levels and enlist their support in passing the language on to other
members of the community.
- Take an active role in local and regional Elders councils as a way to help
formulate, document and pass on language traditions for future generations.
- Utilize traditional ways of knowing, teaching, listening and learning in
passing on the language and help others come to understand how the language
is integrated with culture, especially spiritual traditions and the rules
for living a proper life.
- Be a role model for all generations by practicing and reinforcing traditional
values and using the heritage language to maintain spiritual traditions and
convey the history of the community.
- Assist all members of the community (especially new parents) in providing
opportunities for young children to grow up hearing their heritage language
spoken in the home and community.
- Support the use of traditional naming practices and help children and parents
understand the significance of the names they are given, including the development
of a family tree.
- Assist others to acquire the heritage language by using it on an everyday
basis and serve as a mentor to those wishing to learn the language.
- Be tolerant and patient with language learners when they make mistakes
in speaking the language and be encouraging of their efforts by telling them
you are proud of them.
- Make traditional cultural values explicit and incorporate them in all aspects
of life in the community, especially those involving the heritage language.
- Use traditional terms and practices of recognition, welcoming, kinship
and respect when greeting and addressing others, in the home as well as in
- Work to ensure that new words are culturally grounded in the world view
of the heritage language so that it continues as a living language.
- Help perpetuate the heritage language and traditions by
purposely teaching concepts and terms specific to particular families and
Guidelines for Parents
Parents are the first teachers of their children
and provide the foundation on which the language learning of future generations
Parents (and grandparents) can strengthen their heritage language through
the following actions:
- Take a proactive role in promoting the learning and use of the heritage
language throughout the home, school and community.
- Provide a loving, healthy and supportive environment for each child to
learn their heritage language as a natural part of growing up, making sure
they hear (and speak) the language as much as possible from prenatal through
- Request the support of fluent language speakers in the community who can
serve as mentors for learning and using the heritage language on an everyday
- Seek out information on the implications of first- and second-language
learning and the benefits of children growing up multilingual (contact the
Alaska Native Language Center or the Alaska Native Knowledge Network at UAF
- Volunteer to support, assist and encourage the language program in the
- Make use of traditional naming practices and help each child understand
the significance of the names they carry.
- Help children understand their family history and the heritage(s) that
shape who they are and form their identity.
- Make use of local rituals and ceremonies to reinforce
critical events in childrens lives.
- Read materials and sing to children in the heritage
language whenever possible, including published transcripts of Elders conferences, traditional stories,
family histories, childrens literature and songs, etc.
- Teach children to use traditional kinship terms in referring to members
of their family and community and to understand and practice the meaning of
- Be an active and full participant in all aspects of
a childs upbringing,
including joint learning of the heritage language (if not already a fluent
speaker) as a way of demonstrating the importance of the effort.
- Provide opportunities for children to participate in purposeful conversation
with others under supportive, non-threatening circumstances.
- Believe in your childs ability to learn the language
and encourage and support them in doing so (if lacking in fluency yourself,
join in with
the child in learning the language.)
- Recognize that language is a reflection of, and directly
Guidelines for Aspiring Language
Indigenous language learners must take an active
role in learning their heritage language and assume responsibility for the use
of that language as contributing members of the family and community in which
Language learners can strengthen their heritage language through
the following actions:
- Take the initiative and create opportunities to listen to and speak the
- Take advantage of special times and places where people come and practice
their language skills, particularly in an immersion environment.
- Seek out a fluent language speaker who is willing to serve as a mentor and
make arrangements to work with that person on a continuing basis engaged in
language-intensive activities (e.g., Tanana Chiefs Conference Mentor-Apprentice
- Recognize the complexity of language learning and use as a way to help sustain
the level of commitment needed to gain speaking fluency and the associated
- Use available media to record and listen to stories in the heritage language
and practice re-telling the stories to others.
- Ask other speakers to participate in the respectful use of the heritage
language in all appropriate situations.
- Gather and repatriate resource materials in the heritage language from sources
in the region, as well as from the Alaska Native Language Center.
- Be persistent in the practice of the heritage language, even when embarrassed
to speak in the presence of fluent
- Whenever possible, spend time with an Elder speaking the heritage language
and practicing proper protocol.
- Learn the origins and meaning of words and practices associated with the
Guidelines for Native Communities & Organizations
Native communities and organizations must provide
a healthy and supportive environment that reinforces the learning and use of
the heritage language on an everyday basis.
Communities and organizations can strengthen their heritage language
through the following actions:
- Encourage all community members to use their heritage language on a daily
basis and to assist anyone interested in learning the language, especially
- Reinforce the importance of the heritage language by incorporating traditional
terminology, language and protocols in all aspects of community life and organizational
- Begin and close all community events and gatherings with presentations in
the heritage language offered by a respected Elder along with an aspiring
- Promote active participation of community members in all discussions related
to language maintenance, including the language curriculum advisory committees
established through SB 103 and seek consensus on the role of the heritage
language in the community.
- Establish a local and/or cross-regional language commission with explicit
responsibilities to provide guidance and support for all aspects of heritage
language documentation and revitalization, including decisions regarding training
and certification of language teachers, maintenance of traditional language
patterns and development of new words and vocabulary.
- Support the establishment of mentor/apprentice programs in the community
- Disseminate information on funding programs that support heritage language
initiatives and offer grant-writing training and assistance for communities
to access the resources available (e.g., proposal templates for specific programs.)
- Promote traditional storytelling gatherings that help
people experience the heritage language and gain a deeper understanding
of a storys meaning,
along with associated dances, games and ceremonies (e.g., a weekly story
- Promote regular heritage language programming on all radio and television
outlets in the region, including local news, noteworthy events, Elder storytelling,
call-in programs and translations of print materials related to life in the
surrounding community and region.
- Publish posters on culturally-relevant themes presented in the heritage
language, including statements of Native philosophy and values to be promoted
in the school and community.
- Support the preparation of family histories in the community
and biographies of those who have passed on, using traditional names and kinship
terms where available.
- Encourage local people to pursue journalism careers and participate
in the National Native American Journalists Association to promote public
awareness of heritage language issues.
- Provide simultaneous translation equipment and services at
all meetings so the heritage language can be used freely and without interruption.
- Form strategic alliances with national and international
indigenous organizations committed to the protection and revitalization of
heritage languages and disseminate appropriate information to the community.
- Assign responsibility for monitoring the implementation of
these guidelines to an appropriate community organization.
Guidelines for Educators
Educators are responsible for providing a supportive
learning environment that reinforces the wishes of the parents and community
for the language learning of the students in their care.
Professional educators can help strengthen the
heritage language through the following actions:
- Make effective use of local expertise, especially Elders, as co-teachers
whenever local language and cultural knowledge is being addressed in the curriculum.
- Make every effort to utilize locally-relevant curriculum materials with
which students can readily identify, including materials prepared by Native
- Participate in local and regional immersion camps to learn the traditional
language and cultural ways and their meaning in contemporary life.
- Obtain first- and second-language teaching endorsements (and/or A.A. and
B.A. degrees) as provided by the Alaska Department of Education and Early
Development and UAF and implement culturally-appropriate approaches to first-
and second-language teaching in accordance with the language history and aspirations
of the local community.
- Create an immersion environment to provide a natural context for language
teaching and learning.
- Recognize and validate all aspects of the knowledge students bring with
them and assist them in their ongoing quest for personal and cultural affirmation.
- Provide sufficient flexibility in scheduling Elder participation so they
are able to fully share what they know and provide enough advance notice for
them to make the necessary preparations.
- Align all subject matter with the Alaska Standards for Culturally-Responsive
Schools and develop curriculum models that are based on the local cultural
and environmental experiences of the students.
- Provide assistance in instructional methodologies for
heritage language teacherslanguage teaching doesnt always come
- For heritage language speakers, acquire reading and writing proficiency
in the heritage language to serve as a model and to be able to assist students
in developing their own literacy skills.
Guidelines for Schools
Schools must be fully engaged with the life
of the communities they serve so as to provide consistency of expectations in
all aspects of students lives.
Schools can help strengthen the heritage language through the
- Make sure the language policies and practices in the school are consistent
with the language aspirations of the parents and community.
- Provide follow-through support for local language curriculum advisory committee
recommendations, as well as incentives for students to participate in the
heritage language programs that are offered.
- Establish an easily accessible repository of heritage language resource
materials and knowledgeable expertise from the community.
- Set aside special times and places where students can
come and practice their language skills in an immersion environment.
- Incorporate appropriate traditional cultural values and beliefs in all teaching,
particularly when the heritage language is involved.
- Provide an in-depth cultural and language orientation program for all new
teachers and administrators, including participation in an immersion camp
with local Elders.
- Collaborate with Elders and Native teachers from the local community to
acquire a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of the local, regional
and statewide context in which the students live, particularly as it relates
to the well-being and survival of the local culture.
- Make use of locally-produced resource materials in the local language (reports,
videos, maps, books, tribal documents, etc.) in all subject areas and work
in close collaboration with local agencies to enrich the curriculum beyond
the scope of commercially produced texts.
- Acquire expertise in first- and second-language teaching/learning and the
benefits that accrue to children who grow up multilingual.
- Provide heritage language courses for students in every high school in Alaska,
especially those with Native students enrolled.
- Implement annual awards in each school and school district in recognition
of exemplary heritage language education efforts.
- Develop illustrated readers (such as comic books) that utilize the heritage
language in conjunction with visually relevant situations.
- Use flexibility and make allowances for dialectical differences as much
as possible in the preparation of curriculum materials and in the teaching
of heritage languages.
- Implement the Alaska Standards for Culturally-Responsive Schools in all
aspects of the educational program, including those cultural standards that
pertain to heritage languages.
Guidelines for Education Agencies
Education agencies should provide a supportive
policy, program and funding environment that encourages local initiative in
the revitalization of the indigenous languages.
Education agencies can help strengthen indigenous languages through
the following actions:
- Provide ample opportunities for personnel associated with heritage language
education to participate in regional and statewide conferences, workshops
and other events in which Native educators share their insights and practices
around language learning issues.
- Provide administrative and funding support for local education initiatives
(tribal schools, charter schools, immersion programs) aimed at immersing students
in their heritage language as the language of instruction in school.
- Provide support for curriculum materials development in any area where heritage
language programs are being implemented (including computer-assisted Native
language translation capabilities and literacy support.)
- Provide the necessary waivers from existing regulatory requirements to insure
that students being taught in their heritage language are not disadvantaged
in any way, nor are they discouraged from continuing in a heritage language
program of instruction through the highest grade-level available.
- Implement appropriate long-term assessment processes for immersion and other
heritage language programs.
- Provide support for training heritage language and ESL teachers for all
schools, as well as appropriate orientation to language issues for existing
teachers, administrators and others associated with the schools.
- Provide current resources and relevant research data to assist schools and
districts in developing effective heritage language programs that also contribute
to the overall educational achievement of the students.
- Utilize the expertise associated with the regional Native educator associations
and the Alaska Association of Bilingual Educators to provide guidance
in language education policies and programs.
Guidelines for Linguists
Linguists should assist local communities in
the development of appropriate resource materials and teaching practices that
nurture the use and perpetuation of the heritage language in each respective
Linguists can help strengthen heritage languages through the following
- Identify and utilize the expertise in participating communities to enhance
the quality of linguistic data gathering and use caution in applying external
frames of reference in its analysis and interpretation.
- Contribute appropriate linguistic expertise on language teaching, learning,
policies and planning in ways that are compatible with the heritage language
aspirations of Native communities.
- Provide encouragement and support for Native students interested in teaching
their heritage language and/or becoming linguists.
- Provide support, training, resources and technical assistance to language
initiatives on-site in local communities so that maximum heritage language
revitalization can be achieved.
- Help prepare linguistic materials and templates of basic planning documents
that are of direct benefit to indigenous people in their heritage language
- Assist in the development and use of linguistically appropriate computer
software and fonts that facilitate electronic composition and communication
in the heritage languages.
- Assist in the conservation and preservation of heritage language materials,
including appropriate media and storage facilities.
Guidelines for Media Producers
The producers of mass media should assume responsibility
for providing culturally-balanced materials and programming that reinforce the
use of heritage languages.
Media producers can help strengthen indigenous languages through
the following actions:
- Utilize a panel of local experts rather than a single source to corroborate
translation and interpretation of language materials as well as to construct
words for new terms.
- Encourage the use of the local languages in multimedia materials in ways
that provide appropriate context for conveying accurate meaning and interpretation,
including an appreciation for the subtleties of story construction, use of
metaphor and oratorical skills.
- Provide opportunities for Elders to share what they know in the local language
and to have that knowledge represented in multimedia materials in a manner
that retains its original meaning.
- Prepare curriculum resource materials that utilize the local language so
as to make it as easy as possible for teachers to draw upon the local language
in their teaching.
The following recommendations are offered to
support the effective implementation of the guidelines for strengthening indigenous
- The regional Native educator associations shall sponsor an annual Academy
of Elders bringing together Native educators and Elders in an immersion camp
setting to help the teachers acquire fluency in their language for use in
- Native language specialists through the regional Native educator associations
(including Elders) shall develop guidelines for assessing fluency and/or levels
of proficiency in heritage languages for use in various contexts.
- Regional tribal colleges shall provide a support structure for the implementation
of these guidelines and the teaching of the heritage languages in each of
the respective regions.
- Federal and state funding support for indigenous language initiatives shall
be expanded and all Native language funding should be administered through,
or in partnership with, Native-controlled entities.
- An Alaska Native publishing house shall be established to promote and support
the publication of Native language materials.
- The Alaska Native Language Center shall establish regionally-based
affiliates in each major linguistic region to provide more direct local
access to and
involvement in the Centers programs and services.
- The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development shall provide incentives
to school districts for the implementation of the SB 103 advisory committee
- School districts shall provide opportunities and incentives for all new
teachers to participate in a language and cultural orientation program appropriate
to the area in which they will teach.
- School districts shall require a cross-cultural specialist endorsement for
all personnel with responsibilities that impact the cultural well-being of
the students and communities they serve.
- The guidelines outlined above shall be incorporated in university courses
and made an integral part of all teacher preparation and cultural orientation
- SB 103 advisory committees shall be provided with knowledgeable assistance
on the interpretation and application of the guidelines outlined above.
- An annotated bibliography of resource materials that address issues associated
with indigenous language learning shall be maintained on the Alaska Native
Knowledge Network web site.
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