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Sun’aq Tribe’s Alutiiq master-apprentice program aims to create new generation of Alutiiq teachers

The Alutiiq language has lost four speakers in the last year. Tribal leaders say it’s a big loss — of the 30 remaining speakers, there are just a handful of people left who are able to teach Alutiiq. The Sun’aq tribe’s master-apprentice language program’s goal is to train new Alutiiq teachers, to spread the language further. Candace Branson, the program services director for the Sun’aq tribe, says there’s plenty of interest in learning the language, but there aren’t enough people qualified to teach it.

“That’s a great problem to have; everybody wants to learn what, what a problem, right? But right now, we’re not able to fill those roles. We’re struggling to keep the programs running, because we don’t have enough teachers,” Branson said.

As an Alutiiq language speaker, Branson says she’s planning to be very involved in the tribe’s upcoming master-apprentice program.

“We submitted an application to the Administration for Native Americans to fund a three-year language, Alutiiq preservation and maintenance grant. And the grant includes developing a master-apprentice program that would teach adults how to speak Alutiiq fluently, as fluently as second language speakers could,” Branson said.

Branson says the tribe is planning to start accepting applicants from potential apprentices in December after the tribe’s annual meeting. Applications would be reviewed in January, and the first two apprentices would begin their full-time program in March. The program includes a stipend, so language learners can focus on Alutiiq.

Branson says one long term goal is to create what she calls an “immersion house,” — that’s a live-in setting where apprentices and masters would study and speak Alutiiq all day long. And looking even further ahead…

“The end goal is for Alutiiq to be a language that is used in Safeway, used at the coffee shop, used between mother and daughter and grandchild. And we have to start with teaching adults who can teach their families and teach other kids and teach other parents. We have to get some people fluent. The hard truth about our language movement today is that we’re losing our speakers,” Branson said.

The objective for the three-year program is to produce five speakers fluent enough to teach the language in school.