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

Native Languages

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.

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.


AIHEC TCU National Center of Excellence on Native Languages
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