The Alutiiq language has lost four speakers in the last year.
Tribal leaders say that’s a huge loss: Out of the 30 remaining speakers, there are just a handful of people left who are able to teach Alutiiq.
So while there’s plenty of interest in learning the language, there aren’t enough teachers, said Candace Branson, the Sun’aq tribe’s program services director.
“That’s a great problem to have. Everybody wants to learn — what a problem, right? But right now, we’re not able to fill those roles,” said Branson. “We’re struggling to keep the programs running because we don’t have enough teachers.”
That’s where the Sun’aq tribe’s new master-apprentice language program comes in. The program’s goal is to train Alutiiq teachers, said Branson.
“We submitted an application to the Administration for Native Americans to fund a three-year language, Alutiiq preservation and maintenance grant.,” said Branson. “And the grant includes developing a master-apprentice program that would teach adults how to speak Alutiiq fluently, as fluently as second-language speakers could.”
Branson said the tribe plans to start accepting applicants from potential apprentices in December after the tribe’s annual meeting. Applications would be reviewed in January, and the first two apprentices would begin their full-time program in March.
The program includes a stipend, so language learners could focus on Alutiiq.
Branson said one long-term goal is to create an “immersion house” — a live-in setting where apprentices and masters would study and speak Alutiiq all day long.
“The end goal is for Alutiiq to be a language that is used in Safeway,” Branson said. “Used at the coffee shop, used between mother and daughter and grandchild. And we have to start with teaching adults who can teach their families and teach other kids and teach other parents. We have to get some people fluent.”
The objective for the three-year program is to produce five speakers who will be fluent enough to teach the language in school.