The Indigenous Language Network (ILN) is an organization of Wintu and Pit River language revitalization activists founded in 2018 by a grassroots circle of language activists who had long been working together. (Atsugewi and Yana are two other area languages not presently in consideration.) We partnered with SOL Communications, Inc., a nonprofit NGO, as one of their ten Affiliate Community Programs. They provided fiduciary and administrative oversight and a tax advantage to donors. This year, SOL discontinued operation, and we are in process of creating and registering ILN as a California nonprofit corporation.
No fluent speakers of these languages remain to us, but in recent decades we have been growing in our capacity to recover the language from linguistic records. The locale is northeastern California along the full 200-mile extent of the Pit River from Alturas to Redding. We organize and fund processes and activities in safe and respectful community environments for learning language and cultural activities that empower one another. To ready individuals and families to carry on these efforts, especially our youth, we build and maintain long-lasting collaborations with tribal organizations and families. We seek to engage the community in envisioning the place of our heritage languages in our future. Together with them we will identify goals on a path to achieving that vision, and muster their enthusiasm, support, and participation in language revitalization programs and activities to reach those goals.
Planning. To engage the community we will convene a series of Language Vision Circles in several locations where participants will give voice to their hopeful glimpses of the place of our heritage languages in our future. From these, we will compose a vision statement, and then identify goals on a path to achieving that vision. On this foundation, we will design specific programs and activities in the furtherance of these goals. At each stage, we will take results back out to the people and show how the vision, the goals, the programs, and the activities point to fulfillment of the hopes that they articulated in the Vision Circles. Language used to describe and advertise revitalization events and programs will draw upon language of the vision statement, and over time will include more and more Pit River and Wintu words and phrases.
Because we have no fluent speakers, we cannot use the master-apprentice revitalization methodology. One of our important methods is to identify behavioral domains, develop language appropriate to each, and support families making each domain a language-only zone and extending zone by zone to build a ‘language nest’ in each participating family home. We need to provide readily available audio recordings to model pronunciation in each domain. We will design programs and activities to address other needs. For example, we need to build a shared resource for relearning what was once common knowledge; we need to remap place names from archival linguistic records; we need to re-establish familiarity with plant and animal species, their names and their uses.
Staff Development. We will seek funding to provide education and training necessary to develop and strengthen our leadership, administration, and economic capabilities in support of our revitalization efforts. Structured and continuous training has been sorely missed in our grassroots language efforts. In this first year and in its longer-term extension, staff will be able to work undistracted by the income insecurity that pervades our community, and will have time allotted for training. Trainings and workshops will build skills needed to operate equipment, make program reports, develop educational material, recruit volunteers, develop a community survey, work with other collaborative organizations, and most importantly collaborate with the community. Staff and volunteers at all levels will benefit, from those who lead and administer programs to the young people that we will train to interview elderly ‘rememberers’ and gather their knowledge for shared learning. (We already have equipment for this.) To prepare the next generation of language learners to be active in revitalizing language and culture in the Wintu and Pit River communities, we will provide community language resources and we will assess language and cultural knowledge as needed and appropriate. In collaboration with supportive individuals and organizations we will teach processes and techniques of language documentation and language revitalization. Each staff person will be directly involved in the development and creation of language support materials as examples to demonstrate what is expected as the language revitalization work expands and matures. These language material displays will be linked to our vision statement and goals to further engage participation of community members.
As a direct result, all participants will have an increased understanding of language revitalization and the importance of community input; enhanced self-awareness and strengthened identity; respect for our heritage culture and respect for cultural differences. They will experience benefits of gathering safely and healing from generational trauma. They will understand the need for local organizational leadership in language documentation and resource sustainability. Staff and leadership will gain skills and experience, and motivation to be more active in language learning and revival. The leadership project participants will undergo self-reflection and a performance review rating them on communication, productivity, dependability, flexibility, teamwork, and leadership.
Support. Recently, in 2020 we received support from Indigenous Environmental Network, in 2019 we received support from the Humboldt Area Foundation “Native Cultures Fund” and as mentioned the DEL grants to our Pit River Linguist have included support for staff whose work for that project has also contributed to our activities. Each of those contributions improved our organization’s infrastructure with startup equipment and materials to support language and cultural activities.