Endangered Languages from the Amazon to Arizona


This past June I had the honor of attending the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI) summer session, within the Department of Teaching, Learning & Sociocultural Studies, of the College of Education, at the University of Arizona, ancestral land of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Tohono O'odham


AILDI’s mission is “to provide critical training to strengthen efforts to revitalize and promote the use of Indigenous languages across generations. This is accomplished by engaging educators, schools, Indigenous communities and policy makers nationally and internationally through outreach, transformative teaching, purposeful research and collaborative partnerships. As a result of our work, we envision that the larger society will know that language revitalization is critical to sustain and reinforce Indigenous linguistic, cultural, and spiritual health and identity.

Founded in 1978, AILDI carry nearly 40 years of knowledge and experience offering “a sustained Indigenous language education experience to hundreds of students, community members, educators, scholars, researchers and language advocates.”

During my month-long stay in Tucson I attended two classes that marked the beginning course work as part of an M.A. Program in Native American Linguistics (NAMA) that I will continue during the Fall semester. The purpose of this study is to research and share current documentation methods and viable models to create a Shipibo-Konibo Encyclopaedic Dictionary; and also investigate teaching methods and practices to reinvigorate the language and the Peruvian intercultural bilingual education program.

Coloring PoitiXobo

Linguistics for Native Communities is a course tailored to native speakers and educators to provide the basics of an entry-level linguistics course and give one the knowledge and vocabulary to read and comprehend linguistic texts, and speak the academic jargon of linguistics lingo.

JoeThe course was taught by a young, motivational, and knowledgeable Doctoral student named Joe Dupris, who is a member of the Klamath tribes in the Pacific Northwest. His experience in studying and teaching his own language, Klamath-Modoc, provided our class with three unique immersion language lesson examples, and also helped to break up, and compliment, the cerebral linguistic material.

Weekly homework assignments allowed each of the students to focus on their language and we were also given the task of planning and teaching an immersion language lesson. You can download here a pdf of the Language Project I put together for the Shipibo-Konibo language that includes a linguistic outline and history, including introductory grammar and wordlists.

The other course, Introduction to Immersion Learning and Practice, is a one academic unit class that met once a week, where we focused on the importance of native language knowledge and acquisition, and various examples of successful teaching methods. The message was clear that the factors that led to language decline throughout native communities continue to put up barriers for educators and the prospected language learners themselves who wish to reverse the effects.

Boarding School

Save the Man

For all the conveyed benefits to learning and speaking one’s native language it is still a challenge to compete with the dominating, English (or Spanish) speaking, cultural paradigm.

In the face of these challenges are the passionate AILDI instructor Sheilah Nicholas and the wise and very experienced language educator Bernita Duwahoyeoma, both of the Hopi tribe. As well as the confident guest instructor Andrea Ramon (Tohono O’odham) and the grounded brilliance of Stan Rodriguez (Kumeyaay). Each instructor shared their own unique and powerful stories of finding and nurturing love for their languages, and their continued efforts to inspire others to do the same.

6The telling of their intimate stories fostered a sense of calm urgency and confidence for the diverse group of students who came from all over the United States –this is important, but relax, do it with respect, and have fun! There were magical and healing moments where tears were shed, but any sorrow was lifted with the choruses of laughter, joy, encouragement and motivation. A quote from the Apache, Puerto Rican, Filipino poet and musician Nahko is quite fitting.

“Don’t waste your hate / rather gather and create / Be of service / Be a sensible person / Use your words and don’t be nervous / You can do this / You’ve got purpose / Find your medicine and use it.”

In summary, the courses, the people of AILDI, and the dedicated students were all contagiously and deeply inspiring. Endangered language revitalisation and reinvigoration is clearly a powerful tool to aid in the revival of community, and it has powerful allies. Thank you to everyone at the AILDI Summer Session for making this experience possible to share with our allies in Peru!

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I was able to carry that inspiring energy with me to Peru, and I continue to feel it in me today. The inspiration also appeared to precede my arrival, as I found our fellow Language Allies and Project Partners at AIDI, Jeiser Suarez and Professor Eli Sanchez deeply motivated about beginning the work on The Shipibo Encyclopaedic Dictionary.

AIDI Meeting 1 copy

“This isn’t any old book we are about to make, this is THE BOOK of the Shipibo.” -Prof. Eli Sanchez, Shipibo Linguist and Knowledge Keeper

Iráke jatíbi jónibo! /i.ɻ a.kɨ ha.ti.bi ho.ni.bo/

Thank you to everyone!

AIDI Meeting 2(Prof. Eli Sanchez, myself, Martín – a visiting French Anthropology Doctoral Candidate, Jeiser Suarez – President of AIDI)

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