Indigenous Language Institute Symposium

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Atkiq (Michelle Snyder) and Mall’u (Francisca Demoski) attended the 10th Annual Indigenous Language Institute Symposium (ILI) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The conference showcased second language learners who dedicate themselves to achieving speaking proficiency and eventual fluency in their Native languages.

ILI invited learners to share what motivated them to learn their heritage language, and what tools, people and other resources were necessary and available to sustain the journey. Hearing about their experiences gave language instructors, teachers, and mentors insight into motivated learners’
mindsets and ideas for how to assist these brave language seekers on their journey.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages to raise awareness about these languages and their contributions to global diversity. Of the 7,000 languages spoken around the globe, more than one-third are in danger of disappearing. UNESCO teamed up with Google Earth Outreach to share recordings from more than 50 indigenous language speakers, including Yugtun (Yup’ik) examples from Atkiq and Mall’u. These recordings will be available worldwide in spring 2020.

In September 2018, former Governor Bill Walker signed an administrative order declaring a linguistic emergency for Alaska Native languages. This came following a report by the Alaska Native Language Advisory Council that warned if current trends were to continue all 20 Alaska Native languages are in danger of becoming extinct by the end of the century. Since then, there has been a number of language revitalization efforts, which have included initiatives to support learners of Alaska indigenous languages through apps, radio and YouTube programs. In Bristol Bay, this can be seen through initiatives such as BBNC’s Place Names project, which is a platform for preserving place names and cultural heritage. This online tool allows users to hear correct pronunciations and further their language learning. Visit the website at

Mall’u (left) and Atkiq (right) with Wes Studi, a lifelong advocate for the revitalization of native languages and honorary board member of the ILI since 2001. Studi, who is of Cherokee descent, became the first Native American actor to receive an Oscar.