Communities work to preserve and maintain their Yup’ik language

by Greg Lincoln

Five communities are working to preserve and maintain their Yup’ik language through native language preservation grants. Each village has their own unique language needs.

The Villages of Kotlik, Napaimute, Kwinhagak, Chuathbaluk, and our hometribe Nunakauyarmiut Tribe (Toksook Bay) – these were awarded Emergency Language Preservation grants from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) on September 8th, 2021. We made an announcement about these awards but did not go into detail about the language priorities that the villages had identified in their grant applications.

The projects are incredible and interesting – there’s interaction with elders, documenting culture and history with technology such as go-pros and drones, and sharing of material online. They are inspiring and are helpful for other communities who may want to do something similar for their community.

Native Village of Chuathbaluk

The project is a Central Alaskan Yupik language project. In Chuathbaluk, there are about 10 speakers. We have an urgent need to record the stories of our remaining elders to preserve the history, culture and traditions unique to Chuathbaluk as our elders are advancing in years and there are few left to share the stories of our past.

Most of our village perished in the influenza epidemic of 1900. By 1929, Chuathbaluk was deserted except for the Russian Orthodox mission. There are elders alive today who remember the stories told to them of those times and the time before, how life was then.

Our project is to use our existing youth group to work with these elders to document the stories of the past, a cultural identity project where youth will learn about their ancestors, the history of our people, as well as basic life skills.

Our project will bring together the youth in our community with Elders. It is the desire of our community that these stories be preserved so youth will document the stories by videotaping them using a Go-Pro. The youth will videotape the Elders as they tell their stories, then discuss and share the information gathered from the interviews with each other to better understand the lessons learned.

Through this project, the youth will learn about their ancestors as well as cultural traditions and life skills. By videotaping our project, it will be documented in a way that can be shared and replicated. Videos can be made available through YouTube, on the CTC Facebook page and other electronic methods, and it will be preserved for the future.

Chuathbaluk is a small community located on the Kuskokwim River, 11 miles upriver from Aniak in the Kilbuck-Kuskokwim mountains. We are 87 air miles northeast of Bethel and 310 miles west of Anchorage. Chuathbaluk is a remote and isolated community; no roads connect us to any other community. We have very limited services and all travel is by small plane except a few times in the summer, when a barge comes up river to deliver fuel and freight. It is possible to travel to other Alaska Native Villages by boat on the Kuskokwim River and by snow machine in the winter.

Village of Kotlik

COVID-19 meant that elders were separated from the rest of the community and words and language that would normally be part of daily life abruptly stopped. No Social gathering, unable to visit, no in-person school as the school was following protocol and mandates of code Red. Everyone did remote work at home and home school.

The project is a Central Alaskan Yup’ik language project. 20-30 percent of people in Kotlik speak fluent Yupik. We have a bilingual class at school, teaching by listening, speaking or talk with someone that speaks it.

We will use this funding to hire a Language Coordinator, bring youth and elders together to record and transcribe our language and stories, and make the stories available online through the tribal library. We will also purchase a drone to take aerial photos and video of our traditional lands to assist with place names and to get young people involved.

The Village of Kotlik is located on the east bank of the Kotlik Slough, 35 miles northeast of Emmonak in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Kotlik is located on both banks of the Kotlik River, 450 miles from Anchorage. The village is less than six miles from the ocean, located on a braid of the Yukon River near the coast of the Bering Sea. No roads connect us to any other village. All travel is by small plane and the weather is unpredictable.

Native Village of Kwinhagak

Kwinhagak’s Yup’ik name is Kuinerraq, meaning “new river channel.” The village of Kwinhagak was known to have been in existence for the last 700 years. The village is a traditional Yup’ik Eskimo community that practices a subsistence lifestyle. 735 people live in Kwinhagak.

NVK will partner with two Yupik computer scientists, Egalaaq Christopher Liu and Alaskuk Lonny Strunk, to develop the Yup’ik Sentence Builder. This is an online word dictionary that functions similarly as a modern online dictionary with an advanced sentence builder feature.

NVK will create and launch the Yup’ik language sentence builder for language learners and teachers of the YK Delta (population) within a 1-year timeline. Speakers and nonspeakers alike will have the opportunity to learn the functions and language structure of Yup’ik through this online tool. Our target is for users to improve their sentence formation skills as they continue to use the sentence builder. We will review the usage of the sentence builder (indicator) by measuring the percentage of online users who are forming their own unique Yup’ik sentences (means of measurement). This project addresses the ANA domain of Resources and Documentation by providing modules for language instruction and dictionary building.

Kwinhagak is located on the Kanektok River on the east shore of Kuskokwim Bay, 71 miles southwest of Bethel.

Native Village of Napaimute

The project is Central Yupik language project. No current language learning resources are available for use within the community. We do not believe that Napaimute Elders or any Napaimute Tribal member speaks the language. There is a need to preserve our native language and encourage people to speak it by recording the stories of our culture to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native American languages to be achieved by the project during and after the public health emergency.

NVN Tribal members expressed high interest in two primary areas:

1. Making videos in Yup’ik to preserve our language and dialect. We will identify cultural activities that would be meaningful to youth, identifying tribal elders that are experts in these areas and making videos to preserve the words, stories, language, and practice. We have Tribal Members that do not live in our region and this will be very helpful. Activities we will record will include cutting fish, making dried fish, making aqutak, beading, headbands, dance fans, Eskimo dance, and more.

2. Recording history of our elders through interviews is critical as we are losing words and stories and history. We will document stories of their childhood to increase and preserve our history and knowledge which is so important. The recordings will be digitized, transcribed, translated, and made accessible.

The Native Village of Napaimute is located on the Kuskokwim River in western Alaska. Napaimute is 160 river miles from Bethel and 350 air miles west of Anchorage in the Kilbuck-Kuskokwim Mountains. Napaimute is a remote community, accessible only by air and the Kuskokwim River; in the winter, the Kuskokwim River becomes a 100+ mile maintained ice road linking villages together.

Nunakauyarmiut Tribe

The project is a Central Alaskan Yup’ik language project. COVID-19 meant that elders were separated from the rest of the community and words and language that would normally be part of daily life abruptly stopped and there was less school. About 20 people in the Nunakauyarmiut Tribe speak fluent Yup’ik. The school has a Yup’ik Class for grades K-3.

With this project, we will preserve our native language by recording the stories of our culture to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native American languages. This will be achieved by the project during and after the public health emergency.

We will record stories in our native language with elders telling historical stories about the history, culture and traditions of the Nunakauyarmiut Tribe. The recorded stories will be transferred to a digital format. The stories will be transcribe and translated so younger students and adults can learn longer phrases.

We will use this funding to hire a Language Coordinator, bring youth and elders together to record and transcribe our language and stories, and make the stories available online through the tribal library. We will also purchase a drone to take aerial photos and video of our traditional lands to assist with place names and to get young people involved.

Nunakauyarmiut Tribe is located in Toksook Bay, Alaska. Toksook Bay is one of three villages located on Nelson Island, which lies 115 miles northwest of Bethel. Toksook Bay is a remote and isolated traditional Yup’ik Eskimo community. No roads connect the community to any other village; all travel is by small plane, snowmachine or, during the short, ice-free part of summer, boats.

Quyana.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.