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Goldbelt Heritage Foundation helps support First Lingít Language Immersion Book

First Lingít Language Immersion Book & Animated Video Produced Under Kei Naltseen Haa Sgóoni Partnership

JUNEAU, AK (October 6, 2023) – The Central Council of the Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit & Haida) is thrilled to announce the release of the first of nine Lingít language children’s books and animated videos.

The Kei Naltseen Haa Sgóoni (Our School is Being Strengthened) is a partnership that was formed in 2022 between Tlingit & Haida, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation (GHF) and Cedar Group to increase the academic performance of Alaska Native students by providing language immersion through Haa Yoo X̱’atángi Kúdi (HYX̱K), Tlingit & Haida’s Lingít language immersion nest preschool.

“It’s an honor to advance these stories shared with us in the language of our ancestors. Through partnership and community alignment, Lingít language will thrive again” said Desiree Jackson of Goldbelt Heritage Foundation. “The stories contribute to curriculum tied to the launch of an Indigenous education framework GHF is currently implementing within local school districts. Our goal is to ensure cultural education is embedded into every classroom on Lingit Aaní.”  

The first book titled, Kuhaantí, tells the story of the orphan Sahaan as she journeys through difficult times and learns life lessons that teach her the importance of the tribal value of respect. The book is written entirely in Lingít, without English translations. The goal is to let the Lingít language shine all on its own while inviting folks to begin or continue their language reclamation journey. A visual glossary of Lingít words and corresponding pictures is included to help kids understand the book without relying on English translations.

The project was funded by Tlingit & Haida and GHF under a three-year grant through the United States Department of Education’s Alaska Native Education Program. Both organizations worked together to secure funding for the project and have future plans to expand upon this work.  

While the Lingít language is well-documented, there are very few age-appropriate resources in the Lingít language for immersion learning purposes.

HYX̱K Lingít language instructor Kaasteen Jill Meserve explained, “For any English curriculum, you can go and find whatever you need. You can go to the kids' section in any library, look up the letter ‘B’ and find a whole series of books around the letter ‘B,’ how to recognize it, what it sounds like. We can't do that for Lingít. It's the very fundamental aspects of how we teach our children.”

In an effort to continue providing support for revitalizing Indigenous languages in Southeast Alaska, the books will also be translated and made available in aad Kíl (Haida language). Plans are also underway to expand each story to include translations at the middle and advanced level to support teaching and fluency for many learners.

“We’re thankful to those who had a hand in this work and for the time they invested in these stories and translations; these stories will provide readers with a loving and warm invitation to start, reenter, or advance in the dynamic and healing process of language learning and revitalization. A special thank you to Aan Shaawátkʼi for her vision and hard work before leaving this to us to finish up, and to the Haa Yoo X̱’atángi Kúdi staff for diving in to work through and pare down translations that would work for early readers,” Amelia Rivera, Senior Director of Tlingit & Haida’s Cultural Heritage & Education Division. “Our Indigenous languages are vital to our identity. We will continue to build the capacity to increase Lingít and X̱aad Kíl language immersion efforts and develop educational resources for all of our tribal citizens and language learners.”

Eight additional books and animated videos will be produced over the next two years. Yéil ḵa Kudatankahídi (Raven and the Salmon House) is the next language immersion story to be published.

The foundation for the project began over 10 years ago with Lingít Shkalneegí Haa Yátx’i Kagéiyi Yís, a collaborative collection of stories as part of Tlingit & Haida’s Head Start program and translated into Lingít by GHF with support from Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Teslin Tlingit Council.

"What is beautiful about this project is it puts our language into the hands of our people,” said Dr. ʼunei Lance Twitchell. “The spaces where our language existed were taken from us, and the opportunities to hand our language to future generations was blocked by violent colonial policies. Today, though, we are free to speak and learn our languages. Our hope with this project is to give people a bridge to longer, complex stories, and to put language into the home. When we started this project, we had many high fluency speakers, and now we have very few, but that does not mean it is too late. The time is now, and everyone is called with love to live with our languages and to make the choice to keep them alive and well.”

The following speakers were critical and instrumental in the work to translate these stories: Kaxwaan Éesh George Davis, Shaksháani Marge Dutson, Daasdiyáa Ethel Makinen, Lʼéiwtu.éesh Herman Davis, G̱ooch Tláa Anne Johnson, Aanyaalahaash Sam Johnston, Ḵaakligéi Norman James, Keiyishí Bessie Cooley, Shuwuteen Margaret Bob, Ḵo̱ox̱u̱haan Sidney, and La.óos Tláa Ida Calmegane. Chʼeet Wú Joe Binger and Yéil Tʼoochʼ Tláa Collyne Bunn provided invaluable editorial support as the book was finalized.

A book launch celebration will be held on October 27, 2023 at 5 PM at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall in Juneau. There will be games and activities for children, language lessons for all age groups, a book signing by artists G̲at X̲wéech Nick Alan Foote and Jaax̱snée Kelsey Mata Foote, and premiere viewing of the animated version of the book as narrated by ʼunei. The event will also be aired online via Zoom.

Tlingit & Haida purchased more than 2,000 books that will be available to tribal citizens ages 0-7. For those interested in receiving a free book at the event or by mail, click here to sign up.

The animated video will be made available for viewing in the coming weeks on Goldbelt Heritage Foundation’s Atlas curriculum portal.