Number of Alutiiq speakers on the rise

KODIAK (AP)— A revitalization project to increase the number of Alutiiq speakers in Kodiak is seeing dividends.

Alutiiq Museum executive director Alisa Drabek says there are now 33 elders who speak Alutiiq as a first language and up to 13 who speak it as a second language, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported.

“We’re not growing as many young fluent speakers, babies and elementary students, yet, but we are growing the next teachers,” Drabek said. “We’re progressing.”

Alutiiq was spoken for centuries in the Kodiak area until its decline began after Western contact.

Drabek presented her findings recently during a meeting to plan the next several years of Alutiiq language development.

About 35 people attended, including eight town elders and others participating by teleconference from Anchorage. Part of the agenda was discussing future projects and goals.

“I think it was a very positive planning session with a lot of great ideas and some of the challenges and growing pains,” Drabek said. “It’s wonderful to look at how far we’ve come in three years.”

Among five objectives outlined were fluency acquisition, education, outreach and public awareness, targeted educational materials, strengthening the language movement for a healthy Alutiiq nation, and celebrating and sustaining the many ways of speaking Alutiiq.

“We talked about some strategies language sessions, formal classes, public relations projects, expansions to websites, new publications,” Drabek said. “We have lots of ideas.”

During a similar planning session in 2011, among the goals identified were expanding language classes and resources. Stemming from that, Kodiak College developed an Alutiiq language studies program, new publications were written, classes were held at Kodiak High School and the museum held community language nights.

Drabek said revitalizing the language promotes understanding of the Alutiiq culture, which is vital to Kodiak.

“It’s not just about saving a language that is threatened,” Drabek said. “It’s also about a sense of wellness and community unity, and recovering from two centuries of conquest. Language revitalization is about identity also. We are looking broadly about at the impacts and how our language efforts need to promote community healing.”

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