The WAYK team returned to St. Paul, Alaska for our first follow up visit after the 2015 Summer Intensive, which focused on the St. Paul and St. George dialects of Unangam Tunuu. Our visits to St. Paul are part of a larger Unangam Tunuu project, sponsered by APIA (the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association) and funded in part by ANA (the Administration for Native Americans). The St. Paul language team is also currently working on another project for just their community, funded by ANEP (the Alaska Native Education Program), that will increase and enhance the presence of Unangam Tunuu in the local school.
We were excited to work with many of the same team who were present for the 2015 summer intensive, including speakers Gregory Fratis, Edna Floyd, and Iliodor Philemonof. However, our winter visit looked very different from the summer intensive. In the summer, the St. Paul learners (mostly youth between the ages of 14–18), were able to work on the project all day, everyday (5 days a week). During the school year, we were only able to meet with the youth during their school day for an hour, after school for 2–3 hours, and for a few hours on the weekends. While the St. Paul community supports language work by including it as a part of the school day, and while the team continues to work on language outside of school, many of the learners commented that it was hard to maintain their gains in fluency from the summer because they had less time to devote to language each day. The balance between life, school, and language is something we see teen learners working on almost everywhere the WAYK team travels, and the St. Paul language team is doing a great job of making it a priority to sustain their efforts throughout the school year, as they look forward to another large project this summer.
Despite the differences in our daily routines, our December visit was very productive. We were able to revisit lessons from the summer that people had missed or forgotten and also to run through lessons in front of our fluent speakers, who had not gotten a chance to see all of the lessons that were developed by the end of the summer. The fluent speakers enjoyed seeing the finished lessons and were able to give us spelling corrections and Accent Adjustments. Additionally, the local team was able to share some new lessons that they developed during the fall, we planned for WAYK’s Spring 2016 visit and St. Paul’s solo 2016 Summer Intensive. We were also able to talk with the project leaders about the challenges and successes they’ve experienced as they brought the language project into the school.
Perhaps the most valuable time we spent with the fluent speakers in St. Paul during this visit was practicing our Same Conversations. While you can develop a Same Conversation about almost anything, we have a couple of extremely reliable ones in our language toolbox including a game of Go Fish (with cards designed specifically for each language that we work with) and a “Coffee Talk,” i.e. making a hot beverage (coffee, tea, or cocoa). While we started playing Go Fish with the speakers during the Summer Intensive, we did not get a chance to develop a Coffee Talk. During this visit, we developed a basic cocoa-making conversation, that the youth practiced until they felt confident with the basic steps. Once these basic conversations are established they can become a great platform for launching into a hunt for new language.
Thanks to Aquilina Lestenkof, Anna Melovidov and the rest of the local Unangam Tunuu team, to the patient Iliodor Philemonof, Edna Floyd, and Gregory Fratis, as well as to Millie McKeown and Roxana Kashatok at APIA.
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