Published February 3, 2022

Fort Lewis College receives grant for Native language revitalization program

KSUT Tribal Radio | By Sarah Flower

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/Sarah Flower

Fort Lewis College is adding over $1 million-dollars for revitalizing Native languages. The grant from the Mellon Foundation will support reviving Native language curriculum at the college. KSUT’s Sarah Flower has more.

Transcript [4:57]

Indigenous languages are the ancestral languages of over 40% of the student body at Fort Lewis College (FLC), representing 184 Native American tribes or Native Alaskan Villages across the country.

The Mellon Foundation awarded the college a $1.5 million-dollar grant for the “All Our Nations Language Revitalization Hub,” an initiative that is centered on empowering language learners and teachers, and teaching language revitalization program design.

Deanne Grant is an assistant professor of Sociology & Human Services and Native American & Indigenous Studies at the college.

With this funding, Grant is hoping that language and culture will be unified within their education.

We are living in hard times, and we’re also living in exciting times as Native people, and the more that we can get our Native knowledge systems and ways of being integrated into our educational systems, I think that it's better for everybody, Native or non-native. I think language revitalization is key to helping us understand Native world views. And, how unique and valuable they are.

The All Our Nations Language Revitalization Hub or "the Hub", is housed under the Native American & Indigenous Studies Department.

Ph.D. Janine Fitzgerald is a Sociology and Human Services professor at that college.

Ph.D. Fitzgerald along with Grant spearheaded the funding of the hub.

Fitzgerald says the goal of is to provide a three-pronged approach in dealing with the urgency to support efforts around the world towards Native and Indigenous language revitalization.

Starting in the summer of 2024, there will be a three-week program, focusing on the joy and excitement of learning Native Cosmology communicated in their traditional native language.

Followed by the second prong, which is nine months three-credit course called pedagogy for language revitalization, and lastly the third prong of the Hub will be to develop a certificate at FLC in Native Community Based Language Revitalization, that includes classes from Native American & Indigenous Studies, Borders & Languages, Sociology, and the School of Education.

Ph.D. Fitzgerald says that part of establishing a program like this is to help heal some of the intergenerational trauma experienced by Indigenous people.

One of the legacies of settler colonialism, and the boarding schools, was this shame for how you speak, which then becomes a shame for who you are, and of course they were shame for who they were in other ways besides just language, but language we tend to think of it as a cognitive thing, and we are finding that it is not a cognitive thing, to not be able to speak your mother tongue, how your mother spoke to you, does this deep, deep, trauma and then it creates this self-hatred for who you are,
and for your own people.

With over 570 tribes across the country, Ph.D. Fitzgerald and Grant both say that the goal is not to become fluent in or teach every language available, but rather listen to the students to see which Tribal or Alaskan Native languages they’d like to start out with and rotate each semester.

From an administrative perspective, Provost at Fort Lewis, Cheryl Nixon, says that she is elated that the Mellon Foundation acknowledges the diversity and culture at the college.

We’re thrilled to have recieved this grant, that recognizes that Fort Lewis College is the type of place, that is doing important social justice work, and now is looking through the lens of humanities wanting to think about human culture, and again recognizing that Fort Lewis is a place where we're really taking the human side of things, and putting at the center of the work we do.

For Grant, being able to teach and celebrate culture around Native language revitalization will strengthen the student's ability to flourish in the classroom and beyond.

I seen the value in the classroom of working with Native students and it's what make our campus so incredible in my opinion, is that we have so many native students, and when they are able to blend their cultural prespectives and beliefs with NAIS curriculm and theroy in particular, you see really amazing things happen.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—the nation’s largest funder of the arts, culture, and humanities—awarded more than $16.1 million to 12 liberal arts colleges as part of its Humanities for All Times Initiative. Humanities for All Times was created to support newly developed curricula that both instruct students in methods of humanities practice and clearly demonstrate those methods’ relevance to broader social justice pursuits. Of the 50 liberal arts colleges invited to submit proposals, 12 institutions were selected to receive a grant of up to $1.5 million to be used over a three-year period to support the envisioned curricular projects and help students to see and experience the applicability of humanities in their real-world social justice objectives.

This is thethird grant FLC has received from the Mellon Foundation. FLC is offering a summer language program called “All Our Kin,” which consists of three weeks of theme-based language learning. A community newsletter released by FLC describes the program as a humanities-based study of language themes meant to compare and contrast the students’ languages with Native languages.

  • Program is open to anyone who is interested in native language and language revitalization.
  • Ph.D. Janine Fitzgerald professor of sociology and human services
  • The school of education is revitalizing Ute language as of last summer. 30 credit minor in Ute language.
  • 3 different languages a year will be chosen.

FLC is also offering a nine-month, three-credit course called pedagogy for language revitalization that aims to educate community residents, teachers and students in the best language teaching practices. The curriculum consists of “innovative language teaching pedagogies,” according to the college newsletter.

The third “prong” supported by the Mellon grant is the development of a Native Community Based Language Revitalization certification program. The program strives to empower graduates to take Native language education to their hometowns, backed by knowledge from FLC classes such as Native American and Indigenous studies, borders and languages, sociology and the School of Education.