Chugach Alutiiq teachers preserve language in villages

Brandon Moonin teaches students Alutiiq in village of Tatitlek. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Moonin)

Two remote learning students just graduated from a Kodiak College Alutiiq language program.

They’re striving to keep the language alive in Port Graham and Tatitlek, two villages where Alutiiq, or Sugpiaq, people speak the regional dialect of Chugach Alutiiq.

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Libby Eufemio, who runs the Alutiiq Studies Program, explains the Alutiiq nation covers a large chunk of geography, including the Kodiak archipelago, the southern Kenai Peninsula, and Prince William Sound.

Eufemio said the college’s occupational endorsement certificates enable students to teach the Alutiiq language.

“This type of degree is really important in more than just the education level,” Eufemio said. “It’s doing something really concrete that is gonna help preserve an ingenious language.”

One of the graduates, Brandon Moonin, works for Chugachmiut, an organization which brings education and other services to the Chugach region.

Moonin teaches children of different ages in Tatitlek.

“Right now, I think we rated our village right on the brink of extinction for the use of the language in the village,” Moonin said. “It’s either grandparents or beyond that actually use it in the village, and our elders population is shrinking pretty fast.”

Moonin said he grew up with Alutiiq – his dad and grandparents were fluent speakers. But he said he was nervous about teaching it.

“‘Cause it’s not really something I’ve ever done or something I’ve actually ever wanted to do, but since I think it was my first week of class, I stepped in, I could just see the kids were excited about what I was teaching,” Moonin said. “They were able to take it right in, and they started using it around the village. Every time they would see me they would start talking to me in whatever they did pick up in class at all.”

Moonin’s cousin, Ephimia Moonin-Wilson, is the other graduate and also works for Chugachmiut. She teaches in Port Graham, a village with fewer than 200 people.

Moonin-Wilson believes teachers can bring about a revival of the Alutiiq language, or Sugcestun, through their students.

“With the knowledge of having sentences, they can speak in the community and, hopefully, when they speak with their parents, their family, the elders, eventually the Sugcestun will be a natural medium in the community,” Moonin-Wilson said.

Moonin-Wilson said she loves her students’ excitement to be in the classroom.

“They are learning and they want to learn more, and that really warms my heart up,” Moonin-Wilson said.

Chugachmiut held a ceremony in late September to honor the graduates.

Kayla Deroches is a reporter at KMXT in Kodiak.

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