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Meet Heather

Heather is streamlining resources for teaching the Tlingit language, in order to scale mother tongue education programs in her community.

The Tlingit, meaning ‘People of the Tides’ in the Tlingit language, people have lived along the coast of the Gulf of Alaska continuously for time immemorial. Their ancestral language, Tlingit, is classified as a Na-Dene language and is related to languages as distant as Navajo in the southwest United States. Although the population of ethnic Tlingit numbers close to 14,000, there are an estimated 50 native speakers of the language throughout southeastern Alaska and northwest British Columbia. Small Tlingit language communities exist disparately along the coast of the Gulf of Alaska.

Heather Lgeik’i Powell is a language learner, teacher, and apprentice working to increase Tlingit fluency in her community. Heather is based in Hoonah, Alaska, a largely Tlingit community on Chichagof Island in the Alexander Archipelago. Growing up in a home where the language was spoken by her grandmother, Heather says that she was incredibly fortunate to learn from her. Outside of the familial environments, there are very few ways for members of the community to learn their ancestral language. This issue is exacerbated by a small pool of teachers beyond the beginner level (perhaps only 5-10 intermediate teachers in the world), meaning that Tlingit fluency is rare. Heather is working to build new avenues of language learning through the creation of a beginners Tlingit book using the Total Physical Response Storytelling (TPRS) method. Currently, Heather uses TPRS, a language learning technique that mixes reading and storytelling, to increase the fluency of the 6-12th graders that she works with. The creation of additional TPRS resources allows this teaching to be taken out of the classroom and used throughout the community to increase fluency on a larger scale.

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