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Language Statistics

Data compiled by the Association of Unangan/Unangas Educators in collaboration with the Aleutian Region School District, the Pribilof School District, the Aleutians East Borough School District, and the Unalaska City School District. Additonal data is included from reports by Alice Taft (1994), Panuu Hallamaa (1995) from a language grant study by the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association.

A letter from the Association of Unangan/Unangas Educators to the Alaska Native Language Forum

October 10, 2000

To: Organizers and Participants of the Alaska Native Language Forum

From: The Association of UnanganlUnangas Educators

Subject: Forum beginning October 13-14, 2000 @ Chena River Convention Center, Fairbanks

Dear Colleagues:

We very much regret that we cannot be here with you today. Thank you to each of you who have made the time to be here and work together. Regarding the new state mandate requiring school districts to establish a Native Language Advisory Committee in every community with 50% or more Native student enrollment, we agree that it is a good idea to pull together the latest information and thinking regarding Native language education so that these Advisory Committees can address the issues involved from an informed perspective.

In the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands as well as other places our Native people live, we value our Unangam tunuu, the language of the people of the UnanganlUnangas. It is however a sad fact that the majority of us have no longer learned this as our first language for several generations. There are places like Atka, Nikolski, Akutan, St. Paul and St. George where we still have quite a few speakers, but there is no longer any place where all parents are teaching their children our language as their first language. Many of us grew up with parents who did not speak the language either. Be that as it may, we still think that it is important to support the teaching of the language in any way that we are able so that more of it can be retained and perpetuated. We would like very much to see it taught in schools so that young people not only speak and understand Unangam tunuu, but can also read and write it in the standard orthography with standardized spelling and grammar. In order for this to happen we need more than an Advisory Committee. We need a dedicated group of educators with knowledge about the language itself, linguistics, and education to join together to form a regional Language Commission. We would greatly appreciate any advice anyone would like to share with us regarding such an undertaking.

Because we are not in attendance we realize that this contribution may be of little value, but we thought if we could anticipate some questions and share some of our thoughts and concerns it might be useful to the group in some way. We would appreciate receiving any minutes or summary and paperwork associated with the meeting sent to the address above.

So much of what is important about a traditional culture is embodied in the language that we would first like to suggest to this group that there may be many cases in which it would be desirable to have a Native Language Advisory Committee even if there is not a 50% population of Native student enrollment. That decision, we believe, should be based on the support of a working group who will share in the decisions that must be made. The same people could provide a basis for determining what things would be best to develop, teach and reinforce in the community. It is assumed that teaching will be done in the schools because we have as a society relegated this subject to the school.

The preceding communities have a tradition based in the culture that once spoke the language (except for Nelson Lagoon), many of whom are involved in reclaiming other aspects of their history such as folklore, dance and art. In most of these places people still live a balance of subsistence and money-based work. If they have a year when there are bad fish runs or conditions unfavorable to the traditional foods they hunt, gather or harvest there is a feeling of loss, of something missing, until the next year when those things can be part of the life and larder again. Our Native language is part of what is missing. So, some of our villages are in peril of losing the Unangam tunuu speakers that remain, and others of us are eager to find ways to bolster the identities of community members by re-introducing, with very limited personnel, at least parts of the language. There is much work to be done, very little time in which to do it, and few people who know enough to do a proper job.

We do not believe (as some of us used to) that this is an impossible task. We have the conviction, rather, that whatever words and phrases can be introduced to parents, teachers, and community members can help everyone who chooses to live in these places understand more about that part of the world, thus enhancing their comprehension of the ultimate world view. Perhaps what would be needed in our case would be to locate a core of people who could be pulled temporarily from their jobs, careers, and lives to focus on developing these two types of curricula. Without a developed curriculum and teacher training the odds of success are much smaller. Without a Language Commission, a developed curriculum and teacher training the chances that there will be widespread use of standardized spelling and written grammar are small. These things are essential to the perpetuation of a language in today's world.

The Aleutian/Pribilof Islands Association, Incorporated, with support from all tribes in the region is embarking soon on a recently awarded ANA Language Planning project. After data collection in each community they will host a region wide planning conference to plan for revitalization. No work has yet begun.

What has been helpful: We notice in your letter of invitation a list of summary reports that will be presented for discussion and wish to make special comments on several of those topics.

1) Alaska Rural Systemic Intiative/Alaska Rural Challenge: This collaboration has helped many of those of us already involved in this work and some who may not have been aware of it become more cognizant of statewide needs as well as local opportunities to share. Wonderful though it may be, the maintenance does require a great deal of effort and cooperation which takes time away from other vital tasks. Perhaps now that we are getting more used to these ways of working together, it will become easier.

2) Alaska Standards for Culturally Responsive Schools: This (these) document(s) provide an invaluable check for us as well as those who care to work with us to try to do the best job possible. We need to each remember to share it with our new partners in work, as well as return to it frequently to check ourselves.

3) The Alaska Native Language Center has been a valuable resource. While they have had limited resources ANLC published four books of great value to the perpetuation of Unangam tunuu in the last two decades: They are Unangam Ungiikangin kayux TunusanginlUnangam Unnikangis ama TunuzangislAleut Tales and Narratives; Kadaangim Asangin/Asangis/Ancient Aleut Personal Names; Unangam Tunudgusii/Aleut Dictionary; and Unangam Tunuganaan Achixaasi{/Aleut Grammar.

4) Elders' Perspective: From the viewpoint of our Unangam Elders' Academy it will be a difficult job to achieve any of the things about which we have written, but if we do not try, then certainly nothing will be accomplished. They would like to see us use Unangam tunuu as much as possible-even if they are not able to help us learn it. They remind us how easily the youngest of our people pick up languages.

We realize that in our region our needs are great. We hope that this forum will be prove to be enlightening and helpful in allowing all Alaska Native languages to survive.

Qa}aalaku{ thank you, for letting us share our thoughts with you. We look forward to hearing from you.

Barbara Švarný Carlson
Association of UnanganlUnangas Educators

You are located at the Unangan /Unangas Page Hosted by http://www.Alaskool.org -- Please click here to go to the Alaska Native Languages page at Alaskool. Material provided courtesy Barbara Švarný Carlson for educational purposes only.