Linguistic Repatriation


Language documentation materials, be they print, audio, or video, can easily be returned in digital form, but repatriation does not always equate to immediate utility. In Alaska Native language have suffered from a century of language policy focused on deliberate language removal. Simply returning language documentation does not result in return of language. This presentation describes one attempt to repatriate language materials for the Dena’ina Athabascan language. The project grew out a revitalization efforts centered at University of Alaska and was started with a broad base of community support. However, the resulting website failed to gather much community support.

Instead, a number of grassroots efforts eventually built different types of language products, often drawing on the content of the Dena’ina website. This example shows the importance of grounding linguistic repatriation projects in grassroots efforts. Language archives can facilitate new types of circulation through community engagement, but the efforts will be most successful when driven by the communities themselves. Since the Dena’ina project several other community-initiated language projects have emerged across Alaska. Each begins with a community-centered concept and then draws on the archive as a content provider.