My favorite part of the WAYK Summer Language Intensive on St. Paul Island has been getting to witness an amazing team of young people who are taking language revitalization into their own hands. I feel very lucky to have been able to learn from the Unangam Tunuu language team and to witness their many years of commitment and hard work in learning their language. I also feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to learn Unangam Tunuu as an outsider to the community, and I hope that my time here was helpful to their team and to the community.

There are communities all over Alaska who are doing amazing work in language and cultural revitalization, but I don’t think I have seen a program in the state like the Unangam Tunuu Speaking Listening Teaching Team (UTSLT) that has so effectively placed young people (and particularly teenagers) as the main leaders in language revitalization. With few speakers left, these teenagers are stepping up as the language teachers in the community, and really the whole Aleutian/Pribilofs region. During the two-week Unangam Tunuu Download Camp (UTDC), campers from all over the region flew in to learn directly from the UTSLT team. They really are the new Unangam Tunuu informants.

There is not only a great group of young people here; there are also elder fluent speakers who are guiding them along and sharing their language with a new generation of speakers. Probably the most enjoyable times I had this summer were witnessing moments between fluent speakers and learners. The speakers we worked with were always encouraging and pushing learners to learn more but teaching with patience and humor every time.

This summer, I learned how to model a language program that puts youth as the central figures in language revitalization, and I hope further in my career that I am able to take what I have learned here and apply it to other language and non-language related contexts. I hope to be able to pay what I have learned forward after this summer.

Language revitalization is hard, and sometimes it isn’t always fun. There are issues beyond just language learning that have to be considered in every language movement.  Learning languages in and of itself is difficult, even when you do have abundant speakers and institutional backing of your language. Despite the difficulties, the UTSLT team has made it their goal to bring their language back. They have already begun to do that in the past several years, and they will continue to do it into the future. Being able to witness their progress firsthand has been the best part of this summer for me.

Post authored by Myles.

Written by Evan Gardner