Sun’aq Tribe to Open Alutiiq Language Immersion School for Children

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

The Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak has just received a grant to begin an Alutiiq language program for preschool-aged children.

Candace Branson is the tribe’s Alutiiq heritage educator and says last week Sun’aq learned that it won a five-year, almost $2 million grant from the Administration for Native Americans. Branson explains it’ll enable a whole new generation to be immersed in Alutiiq language with a teacher and a teacher’s aide dedicated to that mission.

“Our community has been working on language revitalization since the 1960s, and this grant is a huge honor and a huge responsibility for the Sun’aq Tribe, and I really look forward to doing our best and moving forward with the language revitalization movement.”

Branson says connecting with her ancestral language has helped her form an identity within the Native community, and there are other benefits to learning the Alutiiq language.

“In terms of broader scales outside of my experience, we know that learning your indigenous language helps with the effects of historical trauma, so it can be something that relates you to a positive aspect of your culture rather than just seeing the alcoholism and the abuse and the historical trauma effects that happen as a result of our history.”

Branson also says learning a second language makes a person’s brain more active. Various sources, from studies to articles, have made connections between language learning and increased mental performance.

Branson says the language nest will serve the same age group as a preschool and the teacher and teacher’s aide will instruct 2 days a week, 4 hours a day. She explains by the end of the third grant year, the language nest will run 5 days a week, and may eventually require enrollment fees in order to pay the instructors and maintain a sustainable program.

Branson says Sun’aq is currently taking applications for both the teacher and teacher’s aide positions, and classes should be ready to begin in January.

Correction 9/01/2016: A prior version listed the entire grant amount as $400,000. According to Branson, the grant amount is $1,900,000.

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