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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 17, 2001 - Issue 49


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Native Language Program Nets Grant


$1 MILLION: Federal money will go to UAF's Athabaskan teacher training project.


 by Zaz Hollander Anchorage Daily News - November 5, 2001


The students at the elementary school in Arctic Village understand the Gwich'in language because they hear it at home.

But they don't learn it in school.

Caroline Tritt-Frank, who teaches the 26 kids at the school this year, wants to change that with help from a fledgling University of Alaska Fairbanks program that just received a $1 million federal grant.

Tritt-Frank expects to earn a master's degree next month in Native language education, specializing in the Gwich'in language.

For six years, she taught standard subjects in Gwich'in, mixing in traditional information gleaned from talks with elders. Disappointing standardized test scores for Arctic Village students prompted the school to end the language immersion program this year to focus on reading in English, Frank said.

But in the future, she wants to bring back her emphasis on Gwich'in coupled with the "old beliefs" of tribal elders.

Kids benefit personally from the traditional teachings, she said, but they also seem to do better at reading English.

"If they learn in their own language and culture, which they are familiar with, they learn much more, faster," she said. "And then they make the transition over to English, which makes it easier for them."

Alaska Natives speak 20 languages; 11 are forms of Athabaskan in danger of fading out in school and spoken by a shrinking number of adults, university officials say.

UAF founded its Alaska Native Language Center in 1972. In 1998, the university added a Native language teacher training program with a $1 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The program focused on four of the 11 Athabaskan languages spoken -- but fading -- within the state: Gwich'in, Koyukon Upper Kuskokwim, Deg Xinag, and Lower Tanana.

Last week, the university announced the receipt of another $1 million, five-year grant from the federal education agency.

The money allows the teacher training program to add three Athabaskan languages: Upper Tanana, Tanacross, and Dena'ina. It also will pay for four $10,000 fellowships, two to undergraduate and two to graduate students.

Faculty members in the Alaska Native Language Center will work directly with the Interior Athabascan Tribal College, an as yet unaccredited tribal college in Fairbanks. The money will go toward hiring a program coordinator for a language education program.

"We're operating under the assumption that a native-controlled institution is going to be more sensitive and able to set up community-based language programs," said Patrick Marlow, an assistant professor with the language center and program director for the Athabascan Language Development Institute.

The university's language center calls the latest program "Genaga: Language, Career Ladder Program for Athabascan Teachers." Partners include the Alaska Gateway, Lake and Peninsula school districts, Tanana Chiefs Conference, the tribal college and UAF's Rural Educators Preparation Partnership Program.


     Maps by Travel

Alaska Native Language Center
Established in 1972 by state legislation as a center for documentation and cultivation of the state's 20 Native languages.

Gwich'in Language
The Gwich'in Athapaskan language has also been known as Loucheux, Kutchin and Tukudh.

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