Inaugural Grantees Announced for First Nations’ Native Language Immersion Initiative  

NEH partnership with first nations development institute seeks to revitalize endangered indigenous languages.


Keres Children's Learning Center
Photo caption

Students celebrate “Rock Your Mocs Day” at Keres Children’s Learning Center, Cochiti Pueblo’s first full-immersion school.

Keres Children's Learning Center

(July 10, 2018)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Twelve Native language immersion programs will receive funding to expand and support language and culture education programs within tribal communities through a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and First Nations Development Institute (First Nations).

First Nations, a Native-led nonprofit that invests in institutions and models that support economic development and sustain cultural knowledge and practices within Native American communities, has announced grants to twelve American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian language programs. Each program will receive $90,000 for curriculum development, technology access, and the recruitment and training of language teachers. These are the first grants awarded through the Native Language Immersion Initiative, a three-year language revitalization project supported by $2.1 million in NEH funding, matched by First Nations. Additional funding for the initiative was provided by Lannan Foundation, Kalliopeia Foundation, and NoVo Foundation.

“When we lose a language, we lose not just a form of communication, but also the identity, tradition, customs, and history of a people,” said NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede. “The National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to support an initiative that will safeguard endangered indigenous languages and nurture vibrant communities by putting Native American organizations at the center of language retention and revitalization efforts.”

There are currently approximately 150 Native languages spoken in the U.S., many of them spoken by only a small number of elders. Without intervention, many of these languages are expected to become extinct within the next 50 to 100 years, a significant loss of cultural heritage. Through this initiative, NEH and First Nations seek to stem the loss of indigenous languages and cultures by training new generations of Native American language speakers, and by establishing infrastructure and models for immersive Native-language programs that may be replicated in other communities.

Language retention and revitalization programs have been recognized as providing key benefits to Native American communities by boosting educational achievement and student retention rates. They also support community identity, Native systems of kinship, and management of community and natural resources.

“The support for this effort from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is being matched by other visionary and generous supporters each year, is so critically important to Native communities,” said Michael E. Roberts, First Nations President & CEO. “Many Indigenous languages are quickly slipping away here in the U.S.—perhaps to be lost forever—but this major influx of support will go very far in stemming that loss and, in fact, it will serve to reinvigorate the practice of language and cultural retention in American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities. The NEH funding is a crucial transfusion of hope and cultural recognition for the future.”

The grantees are:

  • Chickaloon Native Village, Chickaloon, Alaska. The Ahtna Nekenaege' Ugheldze' Ghitnaa Pilot Project will serve Pre-K-8 students of the Ya Ne Dah Ah Tribal School. After the passing of the last fluent language speaker/teacher, the Chickaloon Village Tribal Council prioritized the preservation of cultural lifeways through the implementation of a curriculum and testing assessment standards developed over the past three years for Ahtna culture and language immersion instruction.
  • Kama’aha Education Initiative, Hilo, Hawaiʻi. The project will be guided by the rediscovery of Hawaiian scientific terminology and concepts found in ancestral texts and their integration into Pre-K-12 school curriculum, online resources and training for Hawaiian language immersion teachers. The goal is to provide culturally responsive teaching grounded in Hawaiian knowledge in order to better support student learning in the subject areas of language, math, and science.
  • Keres Children’s Learning Center, Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico. The goal is to expand and increase the capacity of staff to develop children, ages 2.5 to 6, into healthy, responsible, Keres-speaking adults in the primary Keres immersion classroom. Training will be provided in best language immersion and Montessori practices and by refreshing the classroom materials and equipment to better nurture and revitalize the Keres language, culture, and traditions.
  • Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College, Baraga, Michigan. The project, Indooziitaamin, will primarily focus on the Migiziinsag preschool program. It will strengthen the current program through increased use of language and cultural activities, and will prepare teachers to encourage more frequent Ojibwe language use by providing recurring training, evaluation, and a curriculum. Additionally, family-oriented events will be held to promote language use between community members and to increase cultural awareness.
  • Nez Perce Tribe, Lapwai, Idaho. The project will create a formal immersion training program for future Nez Perce language teachers, who will serve students in preschool through college in the three main on-reservation communities of Lapwai, Orofino and Kamiah/Kooskia. The key points of this project are mentoring, job and life shadowing, curriculum methodology, curriculum development, and professional development training.
  • Ohkay Owingeh, Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico. The project offers an additional opportunity for tribal members age 6-17 in the public and tribal schools’ current language immersion programs to continue Tewa immersion through after-school programs. Programs include connecting with tribal elders through mentoring activities, community service, and cultural-retention activities. Language immersion will be provided by community members who have obtained the tribe’s certification as Tewa teachers.
  • Oneida Nation, Oneida, Wisconsin. The tribal language department will expand the Oneida immersion program to include the 10 to 16 students in the Oneida Head Start. This class will be structured to utilize On^yote’aka Tsi Nitwaw^not^ and Head Start “as it happens” curriculum objectives, along with additional cultural components, and to serve children in a setting where Oneida is the first language they learn.
  • Salish School of Spokane, Spokane, Washington. This project will increase intergenerational use and transmission of Salish language. This will be achieved by expanding the Salish immersion school programming from K-5 to include grades 6 and 7, deepening and expanding the Salish immersion teacher training program, sustaining the Salish language training program for parents and community members, and creating new Salish language math, science, and literacy materials.
  • STAR School (Painted Desert Demonstration Project), Flagstaff, Arizona. The project will intensify the Navajo language immersion efforts in early childhood (ages 3, 4 and 5). The Alchini Bighan (children's house) serves 36 Navajo children and follows the Montessori model of “learn by doing” with the language-immersion approach that entails conversational learning rather than direct instruction. In addition, the project will provide a six-day Diné language immersion camp for students in grades 1-8 that will focus on plant knowledge and traditional food.
  • Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, North Dakota. The project will create a comprehensive, coherent Pre-K immersion curriculum based on Dakota/Lakota immersion activities and materials developed since 2012, The curriculum will serve teachers and students at Lakho’iyapi Wahohpi orany D/Lakota preschool or daycare centers interested in creating an immersion environment, along with parents and community members who want to support language learning in the home.
  • Waadookodaading, Inc., Hayward, Wisconsin. The Agindamaadidaa! (“Let’s Read!”) project will develop a sequence of Ojibwemowin leveled reading books that will align with new Ojibwe literacy assessments being developed. Leveled readers match a student’s reading ability level, or “lexile,” with texts written at that level. Although these are commonly available for reading series in English, this will be the first series in Ojibwe. The focus of the first readers will be sets for students in K-1, 2-3 and 4-5.
  • Wopanaak Language and Cultural Weetyoo Inc., Mashpee, Massachusetts. Mukayuhsak Weekuw Wôpanâôt8ây Pâhshaneekamuq supports expansion of the Wôpanâak immersion language nest (preschool/kindergarten) to serve lower elementary students (grades 2-4) through teacher certification and fluency training, parent literacy development, and comprehensive planning to ensure a family and community-driven school design grounded in Wampanoag culture. Community planning will engage all four Wampanoag tribes and governing councils who contribute to the vitality of WLRP’s immersion and other instructional programs serving 4,000 citizens among the greater Wampanoag Nation in southeastern Massachusetts.