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Igiugig awarded large grant for Yup'ik revitalization effort

Nearly $900,000 will fund a three-year program to pair elders with younger mentors to preserve local dialect, teach to next generation.

The Village of Igiugig is on the receiving end of a sizeable grant to support their efforts to preserve and revitalize the Yup'ik language, specifically the Iliamna Lake dialect. KDLG’s Dave Bendinger has more:

Audio transcript below:

On several occasions the US Congress has recognized the need to reverse the decline of surviving Native American languages. Funding has been set aside to help tribes and communities restore native languages and see them taught to younger generations. The Village of Iguigig applied for such a grant and found out last week they would receive money to create a Yup'ik immersion program. AlexAnna Salmon is the tribal administrator:

"I think that we were funded because, even though the Yup'ik langugage itself is fairly strong in Alaska, there's little documented on the Lake Iliamna dialect," she said. "There are less 25 speakers left in the region, and they're all elderly.

Salmon says there were five elders in Igiugig who spoke Yup'ik fluently when the village applied for the grant last spring; by the time they received notification of the award, there were four.   

The nearly $900,000, which is awarded through the US Department of Health and Human Services, will pay for a three year effort to save those elders’ knowledge of the language:

"We're focusing on getting a mentor/apprentice program, for the elders to work with five apprentices, one on one. For the apprentices, we're targeting young parents. They will become fluent working with the elders. Everyone will be paid for their time."

Salmon says the apprentices will become language instructors over the first two years. By year three, they plan to have an intensive preschool program for children aged five and under. She adds that they hope to add other community-wide programs to offer Yup'ik training.       

This grant was part of a total $4.2 million dollar package spread out between 17 tribes in the lower 48, Hawaii, Guam, and three in Alaska: Igiugig, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, and Chickaloon.

KDLG's Dave Bendinger spoke with AlexAnna Salmon for the weekly Bristol Bay and Beyond program. Listen to that interview here ...