Cultural Preservation receives prestigious language grant

Photo Credit: Southern Ute Cultural Preservations Dept.

The Southern Ute Indian Cultural Preservation Department is excited to announce that the Tribe was awarded the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) Preservation and Maintenance grant, written with the assistance of the Southern Ute Education Department. The grant was awarded to the Tribe for a three-year period and includes three proposed plans to help get our language preserved and in the homes of our people.

“ANA believes language revitalization and continuation are two of the first steps taken in preserving and strengthening a community’s culture,” according to their website. “Use of native language builds identity and encourages communities to move toward social unity and self-sufficiency.”

“The project is called the UTE (Using Technology and Education) Language Preservation Project, so I am hoping you will recognize it as we promote it in the community,” emphasized Cultural Department Director Shelly Thompson. “Our late Chairman Leonard C. Burch is quoted as saying, ‘No people can maintain their identity without a language, the vehicle of their thoughts, dreams and aspirations.  If we are to remain Ute, Nuuchiu, we must protect our language from dying out, we must help it regain its rightful place in our lives and in the hearts and minds of our people, especially our youth.’ The previous passage is taken from the preface in the Ute Dictionary, we used this as our inspiration for writing the grant to preserve our language.”

“We only have 32 Ute speakers in the Tribe, and it is vital that we get our language documented as soon as possible and get teachers the support and education they need to teach the children [in a way] that is structured,” Thompson said. “It is also important to get the parents involved in the Ute language to prevent it from dying by providing them the education of the Ute language so they can begin using our beautiful language at home with their children. It is a start, and I am hoping this also brings the community together, we all need each other, we area Tribe.”

In the grant, we proposed to complete three tasks that involve the preservation of the Ute language using the elders, other Ute speakers and the community. The three tasks are: 1) Create the Southwest Indigenous Language Development Institute (SILDI); 2) Certify at least of 15 Ute community members under SILDI; and 3) Create an online audio and video dictionary with an app.

The Southwest Indigenous Language Development Institute will be working in conjunction with Fort Lewis College and will provide college credit courses on the Ute language classes associated with SILDI.

Classes are open to Ute tribal members from the Southern Ute, Ute Mountain and Ute Indian Tribes, descendants, community members and Fort Lewis College students. Fort Lewis College offers tuition free classes for Native Americans, so this will assist with costs. The classes will be online to allow those who may not be in the immediate area to attend. We are hoping to make the classes available on the weekends. We will need community members to be a part of the Mentor Circle which will be created to assist with SILDI to ensure there is support for the students as well as keeping track on the classes being offered. We are hoping SILDI will not end after the end of the grant and will continue to serve as a way for our language to continue into the future.

“Language is the backbone of a people’s culture and traditions,” explained LaTitia Taylor, Southern Ute Education Department Director. “This grant will help sustain the Ute people’s existence and viability by reviving the language.  Past and present Tribal Councils understand this and have already set the groundwork with resolutions and the establishment of the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy in which the Ute Language is a corner stone.  It is time that we all work together and revive our language to its full capacity.”

We will be recruiting students for the Certification Program under SILDI at the beginning of the year. This will be a three-year, seven semester program with some semesters having two classes. The certificate received at the end of the program will provide documentation from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe that you have completed the required courses to be able to teach Ute on the Southern Ute Reservation. This will assist tribal members to obtain employment with the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy as Ute guides, the Ignacio School District and the Cultural Preservation Department as educators. You can also take these courses for personal interest in order to learn the Ute language. The other two Ute tribes will be able to use the certificate as they choose and can contact the Cultural Preservation Department for more information.

The online audio and video Ute Dictionary with an app, will be the longest project we will work on; we will work with the University of Arizona to assist in the creation of the app to ensure it remains the property of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. We will be working with the elders and other Ute speakers to add to the existing official Ute Dictionary. We will also need artists for artwork to be a part of the Ute Dictionary and the app, so it will belong to the Tribe in various ways. We will have an Art Contest for the cover of the Ute Dictionary. When these materials are completed, they will be given to every Tribal household so they can use in their homes.

“I am so excited to be able to be a part of the UTE Language Preservation Project because language was a priority of mine when I became the Cultural Preservation Director,” stated Shelly Thompson.

There is an opportunity for a tribal member to assist with the UTE Language Preservation Project as a contracted Media Technician. The Request for Proposal (RFP) will be posted soon, so if you are interested please watch out for this great opportunity to submit your proposal when it is announced. There will be other part-time positions that may become open in order to assist with this project as well.

Elders and Ute speakers are encouraged to participate in all aspects of the grant and if you are wanting to participate in any manner, especially the Mentor Circle, participate in the recordings, or adding to the Ute Dictionary, please contact Shelly Thompson, Cultural Preservation Director at 970-563-2984 or LaTitia Taylor, Education Director at 970-563-0237.

If you are interested in receiving a Certificate in Ute Language from the Southwest Indigenous Language Development Institute, please watch for the recruitment information that will come out in January 2021.

Please be safe and remember to take care of each other and especially the elders.

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