October 22, 2004
MEKORYUK, ALASKA - Nuniwarmiut Piciryarata Tamaryalkuti, Inc. (NPT) the non-profit cultural heritage office of the Cup'ig village of Mekoryuk, Alaska has been awarded a $525,000 three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Native Americans (ANA). The ANA grant will be used to develop Native language materials and curriculum resources and also to hire and train instructors in the Nuniwarmiut Schools' immersion and bilingual programs.
Having recently completed a three-year project aimed at strengthening their kindergarten through third grade Cup'ig language immersion program, NPT and the Nuniwarmiut School are about to begin a new project, titled: Cup'ig Language Skills Training and Materials Development. The project aims to further document, preserve and perpetuate the threatened Cup'ig dialect that is unique to Nunivak Island by creating culturally relevant storybooks and adding vital teacher resources for higher grade levels. Village educators have a rigorous plan to develop written stories, including the first Cup'ig novel, based on traditional tales and teachings that have been passed on orally, for countless generations.
In their proposal to the ANA the NPT project staff state, "Historically in our tradition we have passed down cultural information orally. Today we are making the transition to literacy in our Native language. Our social makeup has changed, especially beginning with mandatory schools, so that we no longer rely on oral transmission of information to the full extent that we did in the past. Therefore it is of greatest importance that we preserve the words of our elders in print for future generations, and that we do so with great attention to context and accuracy by reviewing the written material with our elders."
The project is a natural progression from previous work where dozens of books were translated from English and Yup'ik for early elementary students. The project will begin to fill a gaping hole between that material and the sophisticated Cup'ig Eskimo Dictionary that was recently compiled by Nunivak Islanders and published by the Alaska Native Language Center.
In addition to developing course material and curriculum applicable to all grade levels, the project will also focus on training teachers in the rules for writing in Cup'ig. We are trying to establish a pattern so that the writing skills that are now possessed by a few individuals get passed on to future generations of teachers and students. We hope it will be a successful approach.
Robert Drozda, a Fairbanks researcher and long-time consultant with the Nuniwarmiut wrote the proposal while working with a team of educators from Mekoryuk that includes NPT Executive Director Howard Amos, Project Director Muriel Amos, Nuniwarmiut School teachers Dorothy Kiokun and Prudy Olrun and Site Administrator Kevin McCalla. The project received strong support and endorsements from the Lower Kuskokwim School District, the Alaska Native Language Center at UAF, the Native Village of Mekoryuk IRA Council, Nunivak Island Mekoryuk Alaska (NIMA) Corporation, and the City of Mekoryuk.
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