The University of Alaska Southeast to build equity with free Alaska Native language courses

At the end of August, the University of Alaska Southeast will begin offering free, online Alaska Native language courses.
Updated: Aug. 3, 2022 at 7:00 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - At the end of August, the University of Alaska Southeast will begin offering free, online Alaska Native language courses.

The course is open to anybody and has no age restrictions. Courses are offered in the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian languages. There will be nine classes offered in total, split between beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.

The university hopes the courses will help create more access to learning about Alaska Native culture and build further equity within the state.

“A lot of our languages are extremely endangered — and it’s not the Indigenous peoples who created that situation, but that situation was in fact put upon them,” said UAS Alaska Native language professor Dr. X̱ʼunei Lance Twitchell. “And so, for us, it’s trying to look at some social accountability for these things that have happened and to create opportunities for healing and reconnection.”

Twitchell says language plays a large role in connecting people to their heritage and that it had a large impact in their ancestors lives.

“The language is what enabled our ancestors to survive,” Twitchell said. “And there’s deeply encoded bits of information and spiritual presences that are in there. That are made for us to help, and that will help, maintain ourselves as a strong people.”

Twitchell said in order for that to be done, the concept of the courses being free and accessible to anybody is a critical component.

“One of the ways to do that is to make sure people don’t have to say ‘I’d like to but I can’t afford it,’” Twitchell said. “Or, ‘this was taken from me and now I have to pay the state to get it back’ which is a challenging thing and so sometimes it’s a practical level from one who can’t afford it so they can’t learn.”

Twitchell said Alaska has an obligation to preserving and protecting Alaska Native languages.

“To ensure that these languages return to a place of strength, return to a place of health,” Twitchell said.

Furthermore, by sharing the language with others, it helps break down tensions between culture, creating a learning opportunity for non-Alaska Natives.

“Fight some of the systemic racism through inclusion. And by inviting people to come be with and visit with and to see this is something that everybody can gain from by helping Indigenous people make sure they are not eliminated,” Twitchell said.

He hopes these classes will be the start of a stepping stone journey to reconnecting people with the Alaska Native culture.

“A connection to ancestors, a way to heal and for those who, who are not Alaska Native we want to provide opportunities to engage with our languages, to our people because that was also denied to them as well,” Twitchell said.

Those interested can sign up for the course online under the “AKLA” version. Those interested in taking the course for credit, will need to pay the tuition and fees associated with the class. They must sign up under the “AKL” version of the class. The credit version of the class is offered both in-person and via zoom.

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