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Movement to save a dying Alaska language struggles

Katie Medred

St. Paul Island, Alaska is one of the largest Aleut communities in the world, but its language has long been in danger of dissolving.

According to Alaska Public Radio Network, over the last decade Unangam Tunuu, the heritage language of the Aleut people, has experienced something of a revival. But despite making some progress, efforts to revitalize the endangered language seems to be flat lining.

A shortage of native speakers and the propensity for those who’ve learned the language to move off St. Paul work against revival. Efforts by the Pribilof School District's St. Paul School to provide native language instruction in its curriculum help, but Unangam is still struggling.

With a limited number of fluent speakers, some 100 worldwide, the district is seeking alternatives. A digital language program could be the way of the future. If Unangam Tunuu can be electronically archived for future generations, it may stand a better chance.

State movements to preserve indigenous languages across the Alaska are on the rise. In the future, with legislation like Senate Bill 130, signed on Monday by Gov. Sean Parnell, Alaskans may see more government involvement in the effort to preserve languages.