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Mentor-apprentice program wraps up

Participants in SHI’s Tlingit language mentor-apprentice program met Saturday at the Walter Soboleff Building to close out the project and assess its success at the end of its three-year term. The program, funded through an Administration for Native Americans (ANA) grant that ends December 30, has paired fluent Tlingit speakers with advanced language students to accelerate their progress. Through the project, mentor-apprentice teams from Juneau, Sitka and Yakutat engaged in 260 hours of one-on-one language immersion and participated in annual Tlingit immersion retreats that rotated between participating partner communities.

Language teams included mentor Ethel Makinen and apprentice Jamie Bradley, Anne Johnson and Duane Lindoff, Lena Farkas and Devlin Anderstrom, Selena Everson and Jessica Chester, Florence Sheakley and Hans Chester, Paul Marks and Ishmael Hope, and David Katzeek and Joshua Jackson. Community liaisons and facilitators were Marsha Hotch in Juneau, Heather Powell in Sitka, and Amanda Porter and Gloria Wolfe in Yakutat.

At Saturday’s meeting in Juneau, members of these mentor-apprentice teams reviewed a draft of a Mentor Apprentice Handbook based on the teams’ experiences, reviewed guidelines for assessing students’ success, and heard a presentation by Lance Twitchell on a Beginning Tlingit Workbook, soon to be available through SHI. Also in attendance were Roby Littlefield and Kyle Worl.

Throughout the project, language teachers in other communities have been encouraged to participate in immersion meetings with the teams in order to maximize opportunities for growth and learning.

“We want to do all that we can to support these individuals to enhance their language capabilities and to keep abreast of language activities,” said SHI President Rosita Worl.

Worl has also emphasized that language preservation is directly tied to cultural preservation.

“All languages reflect their world views,” she said. “And there is a lot of knowledge and experience embedded in that language.”

While there are estimated to be only 200 Tlingit speakers remaining, there are many students learning the language throughout Southeast. The goals of SHI’s Tlingit mentor-apprentice project will be continued and expanded through a newly awarded ANA grant, Haa Shuká, that will establish community based language learning teams in four partner communities. The new grant will fund language learning teams for Lingít (Tlingit), Xaad Kíl (Haida) and Sm’algya̱x (Tsimshian) speakers and students in Metlakatla, Hydaburg, Sitka and Juneau to study the languages over three years.

For more about the new ANA language grant, visit
To find out more about SHI’s language programs, visit

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research and advocacy that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars and a Native Artists Committee. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.