of the North Slope have long been concerned with the continuing
loss of Inupiaq language.
Despite numerous conferences
and meetings convened to discuss ways to reverse language loss over
the last two decades, language loss continues at a dramatic rate.
The youngest Inupiaq speakers
on the North Slope today are in their late 40s and early 50s, a
complete reversal of the norm of the 70s and 80s, when children
spoke the language as their first language.
When children came to school
then they were fluent in Inupiaq. Today, save for a few, their first
and only language is English.
an institution, the North Slope Borough School District realizes
that it alone cannot keep Inupiaq a living language.
The strength and vitality
of Inupiaq is dependent on the Inupiaq speaking community. It is
reliant upon the willingness of speakers to share their knowledge
of language and upon the determination of learners to keep at it.
To do their part, Inupiaq
language teachers at schools in the school district have shifted
the focus of the Inupiaq language program to one of doing what they
can in the limited time they have with children to cultivate their
Over the last several years
all of the Inupiaq teachers received training in the accelerated
second language acquisition methodology from Dr. Stephen Greymorning,
professor of Native American Studies at the University of Montana.
The technique developed
by Greymorning employs the use of images to teach in a unique system
designed to build a house of language.
Teachers use images to
teach a sequence of skill sets that require learners to produce
the language, and facilitate the internalization of the way the
The method requires that
teachers speak only in the language when they are working with children.
Translation into English is not allowed which means that teachers
need to use the images, as well as gestures and body language, in
order to facilitate comprehension.
Teachers and staff from
North Slope Borough schools and the Inupiaq Language Department
gathered in Barrow on Sept. 18-20 to further finesse their teaching
They were joined by Fannie
Akpik, assistant professor of Inupiaq Studies at Ilisagvik College
and her assistant, Jamie Smith. The three-day in-service was quite
intense covering a wide variety of topics.
Taking advantage of the
Apple 1:1 program is an easy fit for teachers of Inupiaq especially
considering that the emphasis of the Inupiaq language program at
the district is on developing Inupiaq oral fluency.
Dr. Jason Ohler from the
University of Alaska-Southeast provided some useful tips for teachers
on how computers can be used for digital storytelling.
This practical workshop
exposed the teachers to how oral and written storytelling, as well
as storytelling using digital and art skills, are involved in the
creation of digital stories.
Teachers tried their hand
at creating stories using iMovie.
Reminiscences of growing
up, Qupqugiaq, and The Owl and Red Fox,
originally told by Pete Sovalik were among the productions the teachers
created and shared.
These new skills will now
be used to engage the children in projects that showcase their speaking
abilities and involve elders and other community members in the
telling of stories via digital media.
Linda Frink, instructional
technologist for the district walked the teachers through PowerSchool,
a software that allows teachers to monitor the students they work
The teachers discussed
which attributes were important in gauging success and agreed upon
participation, assessments and projects as the categories they would
monitor for grading their students.
A goal for the program
later in the year is to use PowerSchool as a way to keep parents
informed on a daily basis as to what is being covered in class so
that the learning of the language can be reinforced at home.
Teachers will be using
art projects as incentive for mastering skill sets specified in
the ASLA curriculum. Towards this end, they engaged in an art project
with artist Dick Weyiouanna and made key chain handles out of caribou
Weyiouanna showed them
the process of sanding the slice of antler, inlaying baleen according
to their design and buffing and shining the final product.
This process was photographed
and the teachers then developed an instructional unit that not only
will teach children how to make the handles themselves, but also
will teach language simultaneously.
Additional units designed
to engage children in Inupiaq language learning will be developed
in the coming weeks.
To aid in elevating the
status of the language the group of teachers formed a committee
that will shape the first annual Inupiaqta Fair slated for February.
Criteria for judging individual
and group categories in spoken language, language with music and
dance, poster art with language theme, language film or multimedia
and language advocacy essays along with a unifying theme will be
developed as the fair takes shape.
The hope is that this fair
will generate enthusiasm for the language and be a place where North
Slope communities can showcase their communities taking responsibility
for carrying on the language.
The community can also
play an important part in preserving the language. People can speak
Inupiaq at their work place, parents can learn alongside their kids,
and speakers can volunteer to speak in front of children during
class about values or traditional skills.
We can share this responsibility
each of us doing our part to make the language a daily part of our
lives. When we do, it will again be a living language just as it
once was for our ancestors.
Jana Harcharek is the coordinator
of bilingual/multicultural instruction at the Inupiaq language department
of the North Slope Borough School District.