American Indian Language Institute Turns 30

For decades, one University of Arizona institute has been dedicated to indigenous language education and preservation.

To honor that heritage, the UA's American Indian Language Development Institute, known as AILDI, is celebrating its 30-year history with a symposium themed "A Thirty-Year Tradition of Speaking from Our Heart."

"In our planning, we wanted to highlight the many projects and the type of work AILDI has done," said Ofelia Zepeda, a UA Regents' Professor in the linguistics department and the institute's director.

Since its inception, the institute has become widely recognized for its training in American Indian linguistics, education and preservation. Each summer, the institute offers a training program that delves into topics such as phonology, morphology, syntax and other topics relevant to American Indian languages.

The symposium, which is open to the public, will focus on these and related issues.

Overall, the symposium will enable AILDI to make the connection between research and community by placing in the hands of the people the information necessary to preserve native languages.

"We're here for the same reasons," said Candace K. Galla, senior program coordinator for AILDI, which is housed in the UA College of Education.

Galla participated in AILDI's summer program in 2004 and went on to become a graduate assistant for the institute before she was hired there.

She spoke about the relevance and timeliness of AILDI's historic and continued work.

"A lot of students have returned multiple times and have traveled long distances to study here," Galla said. "They are taking what they learn here and applying it back home."

AILDI participants, over the years, have become a family because "we are dealing with the same issues," Galla said.

"So, instead of reinventing the wheel, we can come together and say, 'We don't have to retell our stories," she said. "We all know that story.'"

Galla said the priority, then, is addressing what issues are not working.

"We all are aware of indigenous people's language situations," she said."For this reason, we can get to work immediately and discuss works and how to fix it to overcome challenges we all face."

During the symposium, scholars and both AILDI students and faculty from Arizona and elsewhere will present and lead workshops and demonstrations on filmmaking, activism, youth, pedagogy, literature, storytelling, technology, documentation and numerous other topics within the context of language and language education.

The weeklong symposium coincides with AILDI's four-week summer training institute, which has involved more than 50 people since the beginning of June.

"This is a big anniversary for us, and we want to involve our students, faculty and also community members," Galla said. "We're talking about what is happening with indigenous languages not only in the United States, but around the world."

Registration for the symposium is still open for those who are not participating in the AILDI summer institute. The cost is $100 for elders and students and $150 for the general public.

The institute is also selling tickets for individual events. The cost for the dinner celebration, which will be held Monday from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., is $30; the film festival on Tuesday at 6 p.m. is $10; the July 1 poetry reading with American Indian authors from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. is $10.

Galla said the symposium will draw a range of people and also noted that the training institute itself draws people from across the United States, Mexico and Canada. She also said several programs in northern Arizona, Oklahoma, Oregon and Alaska have modeled themselves after AILDI.

The event includes a poster session with more than one dozen presentations. The event will be held July 1 from 10:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and researchers will present on topics that include Mashwaki language preservation efforts, identity, indigenous Caribbean communities, the Yaqui language and morphology.

Zepeda, also an award-winning Tohono O'odham poet, said the continued popularity of AILDI is emblematic of an ever-existing need for training about language education and preservation, said Zepeda, also an award-winning Tohono O'odham poet.

Of particular concern, Zepeda noted, is that few institutions in the United States have designated programs and departments that serve to address the need for skilled linguists and educators focused on language issues within the American Indian community.

That was the case 30 years ago when Lucille Watahomigie (Hualapai), director of the Hualapai Tribe's education and training department, helped to launch the institute with support by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

"People are always surprised when they discover us and say they would have come sooner if they had known earlier," Zepeda said. "And when they come here, we want to make sure AILDI participants have as many tools as possible to take back to their communities."

"We have seen in the last 30 years that there is still a need by Indian educators, tribal leaders and others," Zepeda said. "These issues are being ignored in the mainstream classrooms, and when they are addressed, they've been inconsistent."

But, she said, "AILDI is consistent."