Teaching Indigenous Languages  

Teaching Indigenous Languages

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Brief History of the Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposiums (SILS)

Goals of the Symposiums

  • To bring together American Indian and other Indigenous language educators and activists to share ideas and experiences on how to teach and revitalize effectively American Indian and other Indigenous languages in homes, communities and schools.
  • To provide a forum for exchange of scholarly research on revitalizing and teaching American Indian and other Indigenous languages.
  • To disseminate through the Internet and monographs recent research and thinking on best practices to promote, preserve, and protect American Indian and other Indigenous languages in the spirit of the 1990 Native American Languages Act in the United States of America and the United Nations 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The 1st SILS, focusing on creating an agenda for reversing language shift, was held on November 16-18, 1994 at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, Arizona, and featured some the leading figures in the field of minority language preservation. The symposium had roundtables on needs and rationale, community issues, education, and policy. It was hosted by NAU with assistance from the Bilingual Unit of the Arizona Department of Education, The Hopi Tribe, Navajo Community College, The Navajo Nation, Tuba City Unified School District #15, and EAC - West, Las Vegas, New Mexico. The conference was planned by Gina Cantoni, Benjamin Barney, Robert Luis Carrasco, Deborah House, Richard Littlebear, and Gary McLean and facilitated by Robert Arnold, Benjamin Barney, William Demmert, Joshua Fishman, Richard Littlebear, Dan McLaughlin, John Oller, and Jon Reyhner. Dick Heiser played a major role in organizing the symposium. The 2nd SILS took place on May 4-6, 1995 also at NAU and included many tribal educators from throughout Arizona. The first two SILS were funded with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs (OBEMLA) to help further the purposes of the Native American Languages Act passed in 1990 by the U.S. Congress. Speeches, session summaries, and submitted papers from the first and second symposia were published in Stabilizing Indigenous Languages. The 3rd SILS was hosted by Dr. Richard Littlebear and held in Anchorage, Alaska, in February 1996 and brought together mostly Alaskan Native educators. The 4th SILS on "Sharing Effective Language Renewal Practices" and co-chaired by Dr. Evangeline Parsons Yazzie and Dr. Jon Reyhner was sponsored by NAU's Center for Excellence in Education and Department of Modern Languages and held on May 1-3, 1997. A selection of papers was compiled from this conference and published under the title Teaching Indigenous Languages.

The 5th SILS on "Strategies for Language Renewal and Revitalization" co-chaired by Dr. Robert N. St. Clair and Dr. Evangeline Parsons Yazzie was held at Louisville, Kentucky on May 14-16, 1998. Papers from the conference were published in Revitalizing Indigenous Languages. The 6th SILS on June 3-5, 1999 at the University of Arizona in Tucson was sponsored by the 20th Annual American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI) and co-directed by Dr. Teresa L. McCarty and Dr. Ofelia Zepeda. Papers from this conference were published by the Center for Indian Education, Arizona State University as One Voice, Many Voice--Recreating Indigenous Language Communities. The 7th SILS on "Language Across the Community" was held on May 11-14, 2000 in Toronto, Canada. The conference chair was Dr. Barbara Burnaby of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. More than 500 people attended this very successful conference, including indigenous language activists from across Canada and the United States, Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawai'i, and South America. Papers from this conference were published in Indigenous Languages Across the Community. The 8th SILS, "Merging Tradition & Technology to Revitalize Indigenous Languages," was co-chaired by Gary Owens and Jon Reyhner and held on June 14-16, 2001 at NAU. The 9th SILS took place at Montana State University Bozeman on June 9-11, 2002.

The 10th SILS was hosted by the Ho Chunk Nation on June 25-28, 2003 in Wisconsin Dells, WI. Selected papers from the 8th, 9th, and 10th conferences are included in Nurturing Native Languages. The 11th SILS was held in Berkeley, California on June 11-13, 2004. It was chaired by Dr. Leanne Hinton and hosted by the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival and the University of California at Berkeley. Selected papers from the conference are published in Report 14 of the Survey of California and Other Indian Languages titled Language is Life. The 2005 SILS took place on June 2-5 in Victoria, British Columbia, at the University of Victoria. The 2006 Symposium was chaired by Dr. Lori Quigley and held on May 18-21 in Buffalo, New York and was co-hosted by Buffalo State College's School of Education and the Seneca Nation of Indians. The 2007 Symposium was held in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, on June 1-3 and was hosted by Eastern Michigan University and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation and chaired by Dr. Margaret Noodin.

The 15th SILS was held May 2 & 3, 2008 at NAU and was co-chaired by Dr. Evangeline Parsons Yazzie and Dr. Louise Lockard. Selected papers and speeches from the 14th and 15th symposiums were published in Indigenous Language Revitalization: Encouragement, Guidance & Lessons Learned. The 16th SILS took place April 30 to May 2, 2009 at Arizona State University and was co-chaired by Dr. Teresa McCarty and Dr. Mary Eunice Romero-Little. The 17th SILS was held at the University of Oregon on June 17-20, 2010. The 18th was held at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque on May 20-22, 2011, and the 19th SILS was held at Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, on May 17-19, 2012.

The 20th symposium was held June 2-4, 2013 again at NAU. SILS 21, He Wa'a Ke Kula; Na Ka 'Olelo E Uli (Schools, Our Canoes; Language Steers Them), was hosted on January 16-19, 2014 by the University of Hawai'i at Hilo in its newly completed Hawaiian language building. SILS 22 was hosted by the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Riverton, Wyoming on June 4-6, 2015.

SILS 23 was organized by Ryan Wilson and held on June 16-18, 2016 in Billings, Montana. The 24th symposium was organized by Dr. Margaret Noodin and held on May 26-28, 2017 at the Indian Community School in Franklin, Wisconsin. SILS 25 was organized by Dr. Inge Genee and hosted by the Peigan Board of Education and the University of Lethbridge on June 7-9, 2018 in Lethbridge, Alberta. Selected papers from that conference were published in Sustaining Indigenous Languages: Connecting Communities, Teachers, and Scholars.

To celebrate the United Nation's Year of Indigenous Languages the 26th Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium was held on June 6-8, 2019 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on the original lands of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, Treaty One territory and the homeland of the Metis Nation. The 27th Stabilizing Indigenous Languages Symposium was postponed a year because of the COVID pandemic and was held as a virtual conference on June 14-18, 2021 and was hosted by Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. The 28th Symposium was held as a hybrid (in-person and virtual) conference on June 17th and 18th 2022 at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. Videos of selected presentations from the 28th can be found at https://mediaspace.nau.edu/channel/SILS_AIITEC%2B2022/276314083.

For many years the Native American Languages Issues (NALI) group also held annual conferences. Go to Information on NALI

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