Illustration by Jules Struck

‘Allowed to speak’: How language revival helps a culture to heal

Ancestral languages capture the cultural identity of a people. Which is why Lingít (Tlingit) language revival efforts in Alaska matter more than ever. Episode 5 of the podcast series “Say That Again?”

Episode 5: Language Lesson

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Of Alaska’s 20 Native languages, only a handful have any advanced speakers left. Some have none at all. The Tlingit Culture Language Literacy program, or TCLL, at Harborview Elementary School in Juneau, is attempting to save one of those languages. This “school within a school” incorporates Lingít (pronounced kling-kit, also written as Tlingit) into lessons that help students learn their ancestral language while also still meeting state education standards.

Jessica Chester, one of the program’s teachers, knows firsthand the difficulty of trying to teach a language with so few fluent speakers. And the history of forced assimilation is still felt deep in the community: Most of the advanced speakers, who tend to be older, were punished as children. And even younger generations have faced incidents of language suppression. 

“One of the big things that I tell kids is, ‘Someone in your family was forced to stop speaking Lingít,’” she says. “Everyone has that trauma.”

And yet the push to keep the language alive is a reclamation of what was taken, in itself an act of power and pride. Ms. Chester says, “Teaching [my students] who they are, and that their culture and their identity is beautiful, it’s not something to be ashamed of – is so big.”

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Episode transcript

Jessica Chester: We’re going to play a game. 

[Kids exclaim in excitement. Someone shushes.]

Jessica Mendoza: We’re in a classroom of 4th and 5th graders at Harborview Elementary School, in Juneau, Alaska.

Chester: Everyone pick one berry. 

Jingnan Peng: The students are learning a language called Lingít (also written as Tlingit), commonly pronounced as “kling-kit” in English. It’s an Indigenous language of southeast Alaska, and it’s in danger of dying out. 

Chester: The question you’re going to be asking: Daa sá ee. een?

Mendoza: This is their teacher, Jessica Chester. “What are you picking?” she asks. 

Chester: Daa sá ee. een? 

Kids: Neigóon x̱a.een.

Chester: Neigóon.

Mendoza: The answer: “I’m picking nagoon berries.” That’s a type of raspberry found in Alaska.  

Peng: At the back of the classroom sits Florence Sheakley, or Grandma Florence. 

Florence Sheakley: And I’m extremely proud of everything I heard today.

Peng: She’s one of the few dozen advanced Lingít speakers alive. And she’s helping Jessica teach the kids.

Sheakley: I toox’ yéi yatee. Your Lingít is inside of you.

Students: Gunalchéesh!

Mendoza: Jessica’s classroom is like a mini version of work going on across the U.S. to bring back endangered Indigenous languages. As fluent speakers age and pass away, it’s a race against time for Jessica’s generation. 


Peng: You’re listening to “Say That Again?,” a podcast about how we sound, how we listen, and why that matters. From The Christian Science Monitor, I’m Jingnan Peng.

Mendoza: And I’m Jessica Mendoza.


Peng: So far, our show has been focusing on the ways people speak English in the U.S. It’s the language used at home by most Americans. And the most widely spoken language in the world

Mendoza: But, as English became this major language, it also marginalized – and, in many cases, wiped out – hundreds of Native American languages

Peng: Today, we look at one community’s fight to save their language – and how their people hope to heal in the process. 

Mendoza: We go back to Alaska, which we visited in Episode 2. This time we take you to Juneau, the state capital and part of the ancestral lands of the Lingít people. It’s also the center of the effort to revive the Lingít language. 

Peng: This is Episode 5: Language Lesson.

[TCLL kids sing the alphabet song in Lingít.]

Peng: Jessica Chester’s classroom at Harborview Elementary is part of a program called Tlingit Culture Language Literacy, or TCLL. The K-through-5 program is like a “school within a school.” Teachers incorporate Lingít language and culture into lessons that meet state education standards. 

Mendoza: So like for English class, students would read Lingít folk tales. Or teachers would take canon literature and find ways to connect those stories to Lingít culture. 

Peng: Right, and then for math, they’d take a problem about how many cows there are, and change that instead to how many halibut. 

Mendoza: Important figures in Lingít and Alaska Native communities would also come up regularly. 

Cora Bontrager: Sunday is Dr. Walter Soboleff day. 

Peng: TCLL has three dedicated language teachers, who are assisted by two elders: Grandma Florence and Grandma Geis. 

Chester: Grandma Florence, who was my first teacher, she always said, “You can’t teach the language without the culture.” 

Peng: This is Jessica Chester again. She’s been with the program for 14 years.

Chester: And so there’s a lot of cultural lessons within the language lessons.

[Fade in drum song “Shee daa kaa,” performed by TCLL kids]

We work really hard to do our celebration performance all in Lingít. And so kids introduce their songs. And they say why we’re singing the song – all in Lingít. So when they’re older, they can lead their own dance group. 

Peng: TCLL started in 2001 with about 12 students. It was part of a broader push to bring endangered Alaska Native languages into schools across the state. 

Mendoza: Today there are about 70 kids in the program. And they’re learning more about their language and culture than most of their parents did growing up. 

Chester: My goal for kids when they leave TCLL is that they can hear anything in Lingít and write it. So spelling and reading [are] really important.

Mendoza: But it’s not easy to revive an entire language. One of the biggest issues is this huge shortage in people who can actually teach Lingít. And there are very few places for kids to go when they age out of the program. 

Chester: Since I’ve started learning, I’ve been teaching, basically. That’s how big of a need there is for language teachers.

Peng: In fact, Jessica’s first day teaching came only 4 months after she started taking Lingít classes herself. Her brother, who was teaching Lingít at a preschool, asked her to sub for him while he went on vacation. 

Chester: And I got there the first day and they said, “Oh, good, you’re going to lead counting.” And I was like, “We haven’t done that in Beginning Lingít yet!” [Laughs] So the kids at the preschool taught me how to count in Lingít, really. 

Peng: So Jess, that scenario feels unthinkable if what you’re learning is a mainstream language. 

Mendoza: Yeah.

Peng: When I was learning French, all my teachers were fully native speakers. 

Mendoza: Yeah, and I figure you had books and TV shows to watch –

Peng: Yeah, tons of material in the language. And I also went to France twice for immersion programs.  

Mendoza: Right, and I mean this is true even for not so major languages. Like Tagalog, which I grew up speaking in the Philippines – it’s not that hard to find ways to learn it, in person, you can get classes. Or if you go online. 

Peng: Right. But for a lot of Indigenous languages, it’s much harder. We talked about it back in Episode 2: Only a handful of Alaska’s 20 Native languages have any advanced speakers left. And some have none at all. 


Chester: Growing up in Juneau, like, we weren’t surrounded by the culture. My mom knew a few words. She wasn’t fluent. 

One of the big things that I tell kids is: Someone in your family was forced to stop speaking Lingít. Everyone has that trauma. 

PengSo back in Episode 2 we talked about forced assimilation. How the government and churches tried to “civilize” Native Americans, through all kinds of rules and laws. 

Wil Meya: Probably the first and foremost is the boarding school system that began in about the 1870s.

Mendoza: Wil Meya is the CEO of The Language Conservancy. That’s a nonprofit that helps communities all over the world save their languages. 

Meya: Native children were removed from their reservation communities and sent to a boarding school. There was a system of them across the United States, dozens of them.  And that whole process continued until the 1950s. 

Peng: Hundreds of thousands of Native children attended these schools. They were given Western-style names, clothes, even haircuts. They were also forced to speak English, and banned from practicing their Native religions and customs. 

Mendoza: It wasn’t just boarding schools, either. Native kids were punished, or even abused, in all kinds of spaces – including public schools. 


Peng: Talking to elders at TCLL, Jess and I came face-to-face with that history. 

Sheakley: I was put in a dark closet, because I wouldn’t stop speaking Lingít. 

Mendoza: That’s Grandma Florence again. She was only nine when she had that experience at a Catholic school in Juneau, where she was sent in the late 1940s.

PengDo you remember how long they put you in the closet?

Sheakley: They put me in there for the day.

Peng: A whole day.

Sheakley: The whole day. You couldn’t figure out why. Why is it they’re punishing you for speaking your own language? 

Mendoza: By the 1950s, most Native families had stopped speaking their languages to their children. 

Genevieve Guanzon: They’ll say, How come you didn’t teach us, mama?

Peng: This is Grandma Geis. The other elder at TCLL. Her full name is Genevieve Guanzon. 

Guanzon:  I said, because I didn’t want you to go through what I went through. Making me feel like I’m nobody. Shamed. Excuse me, I get emotional yet. I didn’t tell them about the spanking until they were adults. 

Mendoza: In case you didn’t catch that, she said: “I didn’t tell them about the spanking until they were adults.” 

Peng: That happened to her in high school, when she was caught speaking Lingít by the principal.

Guanzon:  He took me to his office, and he got two yardsticks. And he spanked me. [Gasps] I had a hard time walking, that’s how hard he hit me. You can’t imagine how happy I was just to not talk about who I was and what I am. Just part of the crowd. 

Peng: So some people have mentioned that, some parents later in life, they felt, you know, they end up feeling a little guilty that they chose not to pass it on. Do you feel any guilt about not teaching your kids Lingít?

Guanzon:  No. I didn’t feel no guilt. I felt safe. That’s the only way I can express it – safe. Not to put them through what I went through. 

Mendoza: Now, forced assimilation wasn’t the only reason Indigenous families stopped speaking to their kids in their Native languages. 

Meya: The great economic opportunities that were happening with English and with being able to participate in the larger U.S. society had a big impact. 

Mendoza: Wil Meya again, talking about the middle of the 20th century. 

Meya: The overall perception was and continues to be that the utility of English is very, very important. If you recall also, you know, learning of a second language in the United States wasn’t really accepted. There was this feeling that English was the only language that was needed. And speaking a second language would kind of diminish your ability to even communicate in English. And, you know, now we know that’s not a fact. 


Peng: For all those reasons, the result is that today, many Indigenous communities are rushing to document their languages – while creating teaching material in them and training teachers, all at the same time. And a lot of these efforts are underfunded. 

Meya: We calculated that, that it was over $2 billion, you know, what the U.S. government spent on the boarding school system between 1870 and 1952. And not anything close to that has been spent by the U.S. government trying to revitalize these languages. Really I would say 5 percent at the most. 

Mendoza: This is a challenge around the world: thousands of Indigenous languages are considered endangered. 

Peng: At TCLL, Jessica Chester knows that her personal choices can make a difference in whether or not Lingít survives. 

Chester: You know, am I going to pay for this language class or am I going to buy this?

We did a lot of immersion camps in the very beginning, organizing those and working on those. My brother has hosted a few just on his own. And then there was no grant funding one year. And Hans was like, “OK, well, I guess we just got to put our own money out. And come together and learn the language together.” 

I myself am not completely fluent, and the more I learn, the more the kids are going to be able to learn. 

Mendoza: It’s a lot of pressure.

Chester: Yeah. 

Peng: Do you ever, like, sit up in bed in the middle of the night, like, “Oh my God, my language is in danger.”

Chester: Oh, all the time. I’m going to cry, sorry...  [crying] Um… Yeah.

Peng: What are you afraid of losing? 

Chester: I’m afraid of my grandchildren not knowing who they are. That’s a big one. I think the biggest one is: Am I doing a good job? You know, am I making, am I making my elders proud?

Mendoza: Jessica has been carrying those fears and anxieties about her language and culture for a long time. Since high school at least. They’re a big part of what motivates her to basically devote her whole life to teaching Lingít. 

Chester: It was my senior year. There’s this lady teaching us who I’ve known my whole life. She was a great lady, she still is a great lady. But she stood up and she said, “When I first moved to Alaska, I lived next to a Lingít elder, and they taught me Lingít songs. And when some church official came to town, he said I had to stop learning because I could be conjuring the devil.” 

And I sat in that class. I looked around and I didn’t see anyone who really looked like me. And I felt like that’s wrong. But I had no evidence. I had no training to say it was wrong. I didn’t have any knowledge that I could fall on about my identity. I didn’t know any songs I could just start singing to her and say, “This one’s about berries, this one’s about the weather.” You know, I didn’t have any of that. 

And I left that day and I never went back, because I was like, “I need to know how to stand up to people who say that.”

Peng: That was in 1998. Jessica started learning and teaching Lingít in college, in 2001. And she never stopped.

Mendoza: Jessica wasn’t alone. In the late ‘90s, a lot of Native American communities started to realize that they needed to save their languages now – or risk losing them forever.

Lance Twitchell: When you take somebody’s language away, you disconnect people from the land and you disconnect people from their ancestors.

Peng: This is Lance Twitchell. He teaches Lingít at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. Lance is one of the leaders in the effort to revitalize Lingít.

Twitchell: We’ve been speaking this language in the same place since the mammoth was walking around and the saber-tooth tiger. And that type of longevity is difficult, I think, for speakers of English to really understand.


Peng: Like Jessica, Lance is in his 40s. And he was in college when he first got fired up about Lingít. 

Twitchell: I wrote a paper for an upper level English class called Stabilizing Indigenous Languages. And when I got the paper back, it said: “C-minus, why doesn’t everybody speak English?” And there was no, nothing on the paper. They weren’t judging my writing. They were judging the act itself of speaking Indigenous languages. So I took it to the teacher, to the head of the English department, to the dean of the college of liberal arts. Got the grade overturned, but also realized I was going to have to make sure that language revitalization was something that could happen in our region.

Mendoza: Lance, Jessica, and other second-language Lingít speakers brought new energy to the work. They looked at new ways to revitalize languages. Reached out to elders, took classes, started teaching. At the same time, Native organizations began putting more resources into the work. TCLL is actually a result of that push. And today – 

Twitchell: We have momentum. Even though we’ve only got maybe 30, 40 speakers left, at any given time there’s two or three hundred people studying the language very actively. It’s grown so much over the past 5, 6 years. And I feel like it’s going to keep growing.


Peng: And then, this new generation of language teachers – they started having kids of their own. And they decided to do something that older generations wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do for decades: parenting in Lingít.

Mendoza: This has been huge for the movement. For a language to thrive, it can’t just be used in songs, rituals, or just to speak to your grandparents. It needs to be used in all types of spaces, and be able to express all kinds of experiences. And that’s where Lance’s story comes in. 

Peng: So Lance and his wife are raising three kids, aged 6, 8, and 10. They’re all in TCLL, by the way. But at home, Lance speaks to them only in Lingít. He has done that since they were born, no matter where they are.

Mendoza: It’s a commitment to the language that has really helped their community confront loss – and also heal – in new ways. We’ll hear more about that from Lance and his family after the break. 


Clay Collins: I’m Clay Collins, an editor at the Monitor. I hope you’re enjoying this episode of “Say That Again?” Do you maintain a speak language in your household – at least in part as a way of preserving a culture or embracing a new one? What are some of the family challenges, and some of the joys? Drop us an email – a comment, an anecdote – at podcast@csmonitor.com. And if know someone you think could relate to the story that you’re hearing here today, then please send it their way. Thank you!


Mendoza: Welcome back. You’re listening to “Say That Again?” A podcast about how we sound, how we listen, and why that matters. I’m Jess.  

Peng: And I’m Jing. 


Twitchell: Yakʼéi áyá yee x̱wsateeni, ldakát yeewháan. Gunalchéesh wooch eenx̱ haa sateeyí yáaxʼ. (It is good to see you all. I am thankful we are together here.)

Peng: We met Lance Twitchell at his advanced Lingít class for adults at the University of Alaska Southeast. The class had about 20 students. And most of them were attending remotely. We sat in a mostly empty classroom with Lance behind a Plexiglass shield. 

Twitchell: That’s a good question. We’ll have to check with the speaker. ‘Kay, more mysteries to unravel. Fun stuff. 

I get stumped by my students all the time, I get stumped by so much stuff. It’s such, such a complicated language. 

Mendoza: Lance started learning Lingít in college. His first teacher was his late grandfather, who at the time was the only Lingít speaker in their family. 

Peng: After his grandfather passed away, Lance kept up the language work. In 2018, he earned a Ph.D. in language revitalization from the University of Hawaii. 

Mendoza: But the idea of parenting in Lingít – that actually came from an advisor he had, in a creative writing program. 

Twitchell: My adviser, she was British. So I was visiting her at her house. And I watched her talk to her kids. So I said, “Hey, is that French?” And she said, “Yeah, my mother was French. It keeps my memory of my mother alive to talk to my children in French.” And I thought, what a beautiful thing. 

Peng:  And so after Lance and his wife got married and decided to have kids – 

Twitchell: I said, “Hey, what do you think about trying this?” She said, “Yeah that sounds wonderful.” All three of our kids, the first thing they heard when they came out into the world was Lingít. 

Like – ”Ax̱ yádi, ax̱ yádi, ax̱ tuwáa sigóo haa yoo x̱ʼatángi yee.aax̱i. Chʼa yéi gugéinkʼi aa has awsikóo áyá yáaxʼ haa yoo x̱ʼatángi. Wa.é ḵu.aa ax̱ tuwáa sigóo i x̱ʼéináx̱ yaa kanadaayí.” – “My child, my child, I want you to hear our language. There’s only a little bit of people who know the language, but I want it to flow through your mouth.” 

Mendoza: And as the kids grew older – 

Twitchell: I’d really want them to hear the sounds all the time. So I just walk around going, [Lingít sounds] You know. [Laughs] And then it naturalizes in your body, your ear. 

Peng: Quick note here: Lance’s wife, Miriah, isn’t Lingít. She mainly speaks to the kids in English, though she has learned to use Lingít more and more, just by being in that environment. This type of parenting is called the “one parent, one language” model. And it’s a method for raising bilingual children.

Mendoza: But imagine raising a child in a language you’re still learning. And on top of that, the language hasn’t been used for parenting in decades. 

Twitchell: Once you’re dealing with kids, you gotta say a bunch of stuff you don’t really say to adults, like “wipe your butt,” and “don’t pick that up,” and “put that down.” So there’s a whole wide range of language. But most of our speakers were in their 70s and 80s and 90s, and when they were a baby was a long time ago. 

Peng: So parenting turned out to be this tool for showing the things people need to learn to say. Like one time Lance was driving past a fish hatchery. His oldest daughter, Kiana, was about two or three at the time. 

Twitchell: And I said – “Tléikʼ, yádi, a táak áwé wé x̱áat yátxʼi.” – ”There’s baby fish in there.” And she says, “Oh, with their mommy and their daddy.” So I was like, “Oh I got to explain the salmon cycle to her,” you know. And so I just went for it, like I had never said it before. There are moments like that where I realize there’s a lot of content that we hadn’t used before. 

We don’t have ways to talk about math and science, things that require a specialized vocabulary. You can’t underestimate how much it damages an entire language to prohibit it at such a level that it doesn’t get included with what the rest of the world is doing.


Peng: This is a huge issue with a lot of endangered languages.  

Meya: Most languages have 200,000-plus words in terms of their basic vocabulary.

Peng: That’s Wil Meya again.

Meya: But for many Indigenous languages, we’re struggling to reach 50,000 words. And in order to meet the needs of young people and modern society today, we would almost be at a full time job with some of these languages just coining new words.

Peng: At the same time, they have to confront the trauma that comes with the work. So when Lance and other parents can’t figure out a word or phrase in Lingít, they often turn to elders. And one time –  

Twitchell: We were trying to get them to tell us how to say, “change the diaper.” And they got a little stumped, and then we came up with something and they said, “Just use this.” We’re like, “OK.” 

And one speaker, her name is Kaséix Selina Everson, she started to cry. And she said, “I felt like I was back in boarding school. I was getting punished, but this time it’s ‘cause I couldn’t remember the language that they tried to take from me.” 


Mendoza: While the work hasn’t been easy, it has been rewarding. Lance says his Lingít has improved a lot. And his kids have started to make the language their own. Kiana, for example – 

Twitchell: She knew early on that there were two different languages, probably before she was 2. And I knew that because she started translating for her mother. And she was very accurate. She was so accurate. I don’t know how she can tell, like, this verb is changing in all these different ways. 

I remember this one moment, there’s this big multi-day dance festival that happens here. And my daughter was walking through this parking lot and she started to yell, "Ch'ak'yéis' x'asheeyí! Ch'ak'yéis' x'asheeyí! Góok!]. And she was saying, “‘The Song of the Immature Eagle,’ ‘The Song of the Immature Eagle’! Do it!” And I looked at Miriah, and I said, “I’ve never said anything like that to her. She’s just making the language. 


So then I realize that there’s this trauma and healing that’s going to happen when we start talking to our kids. And Larry Kimura from Hawai’i, he says it all the time, he says, “Let the children be the yeast. They’re going to rise the dough.”


Mendoza: Jing, after I left Juneau you managed to squeeze in a visit to the Twitchells right before your flight. 

Peng: It was close!

Mendoza: So what was that like?

Peng: So I got to their place in the afternoon.

[Audio of Lance, Kiana, and the youngest boy playing cards in Lingít.] 

Peng: It was November, but their house was still decked out in all these cute Halloween decorations. The kids were a bit shy, and I mostly got to talk to Kiana. The 10-year-old. 

Mendoza: And so you don’t speak Lingít, but you wanted them to speak the language so that you could get it on tape. How did you manage that?

Peng: Well I tried to have Lance and Kiana discuss some of my questions between themselves, like, why did the U.S. try to make Native people give up their language? When Kiana didn’t know the answer to a question, she just translated what Lance said.

Kiana: “They wanted everything around the land and on the land to be white and English.” 

Twitchell: Tlʼátk káxʼ ḵuwdzitee haa yoo x̱ʼatángi. 

Kiana: “Dirt lives in the language?” [Both giggle]

Twitchell: The language was born from the land.

Kiana: Oh…  

Peng: But I noticed that Kiana mostly replied to Lance in English. 

Mendoza: Maybe she just wanted to include you in the conversation? 

Peng: Maybe. But her mom, Miriah, said that was actually a new thing for the kids.

Miriah: Sometimes getting them to say it in the language at home is like pulling teeth. It’s a reticence to, one, be his puppet. Like she, from a pretty young age, was adamant that she wasn’t going to be his teacher’s helper, or his sideshow.

And then when she was in a public setting with her dad, he’s the only one speaking that language, and he’s only speaking it to her, right. So that might be, maybe frustrating for her or maybe being seen as different. I’m not sure. 

Mendoza: Lance and Miriah have tried all kinds of ways to encourage the kids to speak Lingít more: like, if you ask for something in Lingít, it’s much more likely to happen. Lance told us that their second child, Ava, has used that to avoid eating broccoli. 

Peng: But one thing is helping. And that’s TCLL. 

Miriah: Now that they’re in a public school setting, where there is an expectation of using Lingít language and of knowing Lingít language, I have seen an increase in their language use. Now it’s something to be a little more proud of. They’ve got 23 other classmates who are learning to use the language.


Peng: So Jess, when Miriah told me that, I was reminded of a book I read by the linguist John McWhorter.

Mendoza: The linguist John McWhorter! How many books of his have you read, like 5?

Peng: I wish! Nah, it was the second book. The book is called the The Power of Babel. And he wrote that kids are extremely sensitive to the social status of a language. Like is it the language they hear in viral videos or their favorite songs, or, you know, spoken by the cool kids? And when an indigenous language feels less “cool” than English, they’ll speak English more. So that can be a tough competition.

Mendoza: I mean, that makes sense. I think that’s why a lot of the folks we talked to said that it’s important to create spaces where knowing an Indigenous language actually gives the speaker a sense of pride and power. 

Peng: Right. 

Twitchell: And so for me, we try to recreate that in every class and every language gathering, to say like, “This is a place where you belong, this is a place where you are valued.”

Mendoza: Back at TCLL, Jessica Chester is trying to do the same thing. 

Chester: Everyone say, Yaa keedzigéi. You are intelligent. Say it! You are intelligent. Tell a neighbor, Yaa keedzigéi. All right! And then it goes on… 

I see kids coming who know a lot. I see kids coming who don’t know a lot. And just teaching them who they are, and that their culture and their identity is beautiful, it’s not something to be ashamed of – is so big.

You know, you have to figure out where you fit into this really horrible thing that happened to our ancestors. And what are you going to do now? Not make them be angry at America. You know, I don’t want them to be reactive and angry. I want them to be reactive and do good things in the community.

Mendoza: Jessica would be the first to say that they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them to get Lingít where they want it to be. But she’s also proud of how much the language has grown, even just since she’s started teaching.  

Chester: Oh, it’s come so far. Like you see language in the community written. You see stickers with Lingít on it. You hear news on the radio and they’ll have Lingít in it. When I first started learning, it wasn’t as visible. 

Peng: The best evidence of the change, though, is the kids themselves. We talked to a few of the fifth graders in Jessica’s class. And they were all so proud to be learning their language. 

Mendoza: How long have you been speaking the language? 

Carter Ehlers: Since second grade, really. And it’s a little bit harder than English, because there’s a lot of high tones and underlines.

Mendoza: That’s Carter Ehlers. He’s 10. 

Peng: Do you teach your parents any Lingít?

Ehlers: Yep.

Peng: Wow! So what are you teaching your parents these days? 

Ehlers: Like, just words like some berries, what berries are in Lingít. [What] fish are in Lingít. 

Mendoza: Why do you think it’s important to you and your family to learn Lingít, and to be kind of part of that culture?

Ehlers: Because it’s what my ancestors did, and like fishing is a big part of it, and I love fishing. And it’s also fun to speak Lingít. 

[Audio of TCLL kids performing Lingít drum song Shee daa kaa]

Guanzon:  It’s a big healing now for me to be in here. 

Mendoza: That’s Grandma Geis again. The Lingít elder.  

Guanzon:  Talking with the kids and they’re talking with me and they say, ‘Grandma Geis!’ It’s amazing to sit and hear them talk about microwave and vacuum and fridge, you know? We never had those things.

Peng: How did you find healing, maybe, with the program?

Guanzon:  Because I’m allowed to speak. I’m allowed to teach it to others. I’m allowed to say, it’s OK.


Peng: That’s it for today’s show. Thanks for listening! 

Mendoza: We’ve said this before: If you know someone who has a story about their voice, language, or accent, please share this episode with them! Just hit the share button on whatever platform you’re on, or send them the link to our site: csmonitor.com/saythatagain. 

Peng: Thank you to the teachers at TCLL: Michelle Martin, Cora Bontrager, and the principal of Harborview Elementary, Kelly Harvey. We’re also grateful to Roy Mitchell from the Alaska Native Language Preservation and Advisory Council; Rosita Worl from the Sealaska Heritage Institute. And Lingít teacher Mary Folletti. Gunalchéesh! Thank you.

Mendoza: We also have a video about what it’s like to teach an Indigenous language to toddlers. The kids are super cute and the adults very knowledgeable. You can check it out on our website.  

Peng: This episode was written, reported, and produced by me, Jingnan Peng. 

Mendoza: And me, Jessica Mendoza. The script was edited by Clay Collins and Trudy Palmer. Sound design by Morgan Anderson and Noel Flatt. Our sensitivity reader is Arielle Gray.

Peng: This podcast was brought to you by The Christian Science Monitor. Copyright 2022.