Reclaiming the Words of Our People Initiative
Language Revitalization Initiative:
In 2021, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) developed a 3-year strategic plan for capacity-building to teach and maintain American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) languages at our nation’s Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs).
TCU Native language programs are authentic and unique. They are located in the communities where these languages are spoken. Some are the only academic institutions in the world where these Native languages are taught. The AIHEC initiative aims to connect and coordinate all TCU language programs to leverage resources and share best practices.
“Our language is our sovereignty.
Our language is who we are as a people.”
~Professor Kathleen Kitcheyan
San Carlos Apache College
AIHEC’s Native Languages Initiative began in 2019 with a discovery project to survey TCU Native language programs. AIHEC worked with TCU faculty and administrators to map resources, identify needs, inventory best practices and pinpoint successful models used in Indigenous language teaching and revitalization. Virtual campus site visits were conducted with TCU Native language programs, followed by regional meetings to prioritize needs. Based on this data, a national strategy and action plan to teach and maintain Native languages was developed.
The action plan is implemented by focusing on four strategic directions:
The action plan focuses on capacity building and leveraging resources in Native language teaching and preservation by building a virtual resource center and Community of Practice (CoP). The CoP consists of TCU language faculty, experts, researchers, media developers and elders, all coordinated by AIHEC.
The TCU Native Languages Summit is an annual event for faculty, students, and partners to share information about TCU and Tribal language programs and discuss methods, practices, and research in Native language teaching and preservation. The inaugural conference held on March 24-25, 2022, brought together more than 200 participants from across the country. The conference featured presentations by the leading TCU Native language programs, discussed current issues and strategic directions in TCU language revitalization and program development. Keynote speaker, Dr. Richard Littlebear, delivered a powerful address that highlighted the current situation of Native languages and the meaning of language revitalization. The summit concluded with a session of poetry presented by acclaimed poets such as Gus Palmer Jr. and Ofelia Zepeda to celebrate the beauty and inspiration of Native languages.
To view Dr. Littlebear’s keynote and to learn more about this year’s TCU Native Languages Summit, please visit the AIHEC TCU National Center of Excellence on Native Languages website.
10 Language families and one language isolate make up the 29 Native languages taught at TCUs.
- Siouan: Lakota, Dakota, Nakoda, Nueta, Hidatsa, Apsalooke, Umoho, Ho-Chunk
Siouan is a language family of North America that is located primarily in the Great Plains, Ohio and Mississippi valleys and southeastern North America with a few other languages in the east.
- Algonquain: Cheyenne, Blackfeet, Anishinaabe, Cree, Aaniiih, Menominee, Michif
Algonquin,North American Indian tribe of closely related Algonquian -speaking bands originally living in the dense forest regions of the valley of the Ottawa River and its tributaries in present-day Quebec and Ontario, Canada.
- Na-Dene: Dine`, Apache
Na-Dene is a family of Native American languages. By far the most widely spoken Na-Dene language today is Navajo.
- Uto-Aztecan: Tohono O’odham
Uto-Aztecan is a family of indigenous languages of the Americas, consisting of over thirty languages. Uto-Aztecan languages are found almost entirely in the Western United States and Mexico.
- Iroquoian: Oneida
The Iroquoian languages are a family of Native American languages spoken in New York state, Ontario, and surrounding regions.
- Salishan: Salish, Lummi, Lushootseed, Whulshootseed
The Salishan (also Salish) languages are a family of languages of thePacific Northwest in North America (the Canadian province of British Columbia and the American states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana). They are characterised by agglutinativity and syllabic consonants.
- Penutian: Nez Perce
Penutian is aproposed grouping of language families that includes many Native American languages of western North America, predominantly spoken at one time in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California.
- Muskogean: Mvskoke
Muskogean (also Muskhogean, Muskogee) is a Native American language family spoken in different areas of the Southeastern United States.
- Inuit-Unangan: Inupiaq
The Inuit–Yupik–Unangan (most commonly namedEskimo–Aleut) are a language family native to the northern part of the American continent and Far East Asia.
- Caddoan: Sahnish, Pawnee
The Caddoan languages are a family of languages native to theGreat Plains spoken by tribal groups of the central United States, from present-day North Dakota south to Oklahoma.
- Language Isolate: Kootenai
Kootenai is typically considered a language isolate. There have been attempts to place Kootenai in either a Macro- Algonquian or Macro- Salishan language family, most recently with Salish, but they have not been generally accepted as proven.
Visit the AIHEC TCU National Center of Excellence on Native Languages website to learn more about the Language Summit, the Native language revitalization project, and find valuable resources for TCU language programs.