Late-Breaking Scholarship Opportunity for Traditional Language Learners

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David Russell Jensen, program lead for the Preparing Indigenous Teachers & Administrators for Alaska Schools at the University of Alaska Southeast, teaches a traditional-languages class to a group of young students.

Students currently enrolled or interested in signing up to study Sm’algyax, X̱aad Kíl and Lingít through the University of Alaska Southeast this spring have access to newly available scholarship funds made possible by an agreement between Sealaska and UAS.

Sealaska signed an agreement offering tuition support for students enrolled in the Spring 2021 semester in beginning, intermediate or advanced courses in Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian languages. Scholarships are intended to support students not receiving other language scholarships; fees associated with a course scholarship are the responsibility of the student.

Spring classes started Monday, Jan. 11, but it’s not too late to sign up with instructor approval. Those interested but not yet registered can do so at alaska.edu/uaonline. Assistance with the process is available through the UAS Registrar’s Office by email at uas.registrar@alaska.edu or by calling (907) 796-6000.

To access this resource students must be registered for the course and sign a release of Information statement that allows the UAS Financial Aid office to complete the payment process. This form can be requested either by email at uas.finaid@alaska.edu or by calling (907) 796-6255.

The $15,000 in funding Sealaska is providing this spring became available when Kingeistí David Katzeek, a passionate advocate and teacher of Lingít, walked into the forest in late October. Katzeek was the recipient of a grant from Sealaska’s Language Endowment in 2020, and unspent funds were reallocated to UAS upon his death.

Kingeistí dedicated his life to the preservation of our traditional languages and to lifting up our children through education,” said Joe Nelson, chair of Sealaska’s board of directors. “We hope students will be inspired by his legacy and take up the call to help us preserve our languages.”

“If you’ve been thinking about trying to learn one of our languages, please consider signing up this semester, right now,” Nelson said.

Few birth speakers of Southeast Alaska traditional languages – Sm’algyax, X̱aad Kíl and Lingít – remain. All are older than 70, and a majority are 80 or older. The group includes four birth speakers of Sm’algyax, three birth speakers of X̱aad Kíl, and 63 birth speakers of Lingít.

In November of 2019, the Sealaska Board of Directors approved the creation of a $10 million endowment aimed at urgent action to preserve traditional languages with particular focus on developing advanced speakers of each of the three languages. Sealaska’s endowment is designed to amplify the efforts of other individuals, informal groups and formal institutions throughout Southeast Alaska.