Atka Fall 2015 Report from the Road

This September, the WAYK team made their fourth visit to the Aleutian Island of Atka.  This visit was the first under a new project, coordinated by the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association and funded by the Administration for Native Americans.  This project is designed to support language work throughout the region with initial efforts focused in three communities: St. Paul, Atka, and Anchorage.  The project also hopes to build fluency and teaching skills in learners, as wells as to develop curriculum that can be shared with additional communities throughout the region.

Previous visits to the island have been focused on familiarizing the local team, led by Crystal Dushkin (Atka’s Director of Cultural Affairs), with WAYK strategies for increasing fluency and good language hunting habits. Over the past three years, Crystal has used WAYK techniques to significantly enhance her already strong knowledge of Niiĝuĝim Tunuu. With the support of fluent speakers in Atka, many of whom are Crystal’s family and friends, she’s been able to boost her fluency to an intermediate high level.

During this visit, our chief goal was to work with Crystal on how best to transfer her knowledge to others, especially other members of her local team. At WAYK, we recommend creating a specific plan to help novice learners hit the ground running in a new language—we call this a “Download.”  (For more about what a WAYK Download is, click here.)  So, this visit was all about developing a Niigugim Tunuu Download.

Perfect Props for Niigugim Tunuu

Crystal sat down with the WAYK team to hammer out the first few lessons for Niigugim Tunuu newbies.  Then, she practiced teaching just the very first lesson of the Download to the students at the Yakov E. Netsvetov School.  We divided the students into small groups, testing variations in our assortment of props and how big we could make our Bite-Sized Pieces. Building on an ASL Download, the students (who have all had previous exposure to the language in their community as well as in school) were able to move very quickly. While we made great progress with the students, and the Download worked well for them, this is probably an inaccurate picture of how quickly Crystal could teach a brand new learner. We’re lucky that Crystal will be able to practice delivering her Download to novice learners at the beginning of the 2016 WAYK Summer Intensive, which will be held in Atka.

One of the best side benefits of working with Crystal to create the first lessons in the Niiĝuĝim Tunuu Download was that it helped her identify gaps in her own fluency.  Sometimes learners don’t even realize that they’re unsure of language until it’s their turn to teach it to somebody else.  One of the best moments of the visit was when something that Crystal was not confident about was confirmed immediately when she sat down to test it with a speaker! Knowing what language she needed solidify helped Crystal to have very targeted hunts with the speakers she visits regularly, when we weren’t working on the Download.

Niigugium Tunuu Download at the Atka School

Many thanks to Crystal Duskin, Sally Swetzof, Teresa Prokopeuff, Mark Snigaroff, and the Atka IRA, Millie McKeown and Roxana Kashatok at APIA, as well as the teachers and students at the Yakov E. Netsvetov School.  We can’t wait to see you all again in June!

Be sure to visit our Events page to see where WAYK is traveling next!

Written by Evan Gardner