Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival (AICLS) supports California Native communities and families in keeping their languages alive through supportive programs, effective approaches and networking events that help develop new speakers. Since being established in 1992, AICLS has had a tremendous impact in the field of language revitalization around the world, inspiring the use of the Master-Apprentice model and more. AICLS strongly believes that Native languages, when spoken and revitalized have a profound healing effect on the individual, family and community.
Language Keepers Podcast Series
Where do ecology, culture, and spirituality connect in your work?
The work of the Advocates is the revitalization of California’s Indian languages. Native lands were stolen, languages forcibly suppressed, and as a result Native culture was marginalized and diminished. Through language revitalization, the importance of the land, the language, culture, and the spirit are completely intertwined—unable to be separated from one another. We find that through language revitalization, all aspects of ecology, culture, and spirituality can be connected.
What brought you to this work/ how did you get started?
The Advocates was conceived of and initiated after a meeting of California Indian elders, culture bearers, and last language speakers in 1992 to address the problem of revitalizing languages, regaining land, and cultivating Native spirituality. What keeps the Advocates going is their passion for language and cultural revitalization.
What inspires you most about this work? What frustrates you most?
The most inspiring thing about the work the Advocates do is to see the remarkable transformation of individuals who commit themselves to the challenge of learning their mother tongues. Not only does the language come back, but also self-confidence, strength, and a deep commitment to carry on the work. We are inspired by the families who may have started by working with Advocates’ programs and then continue their work long after their projects are done, and the generations of families who continue to use their languages and incorporate them in everything they do.
The most frustrating thing about the work is the limited resources that we have to address the problem and implement the solution. Another frustration of ours is that the work is never really done; it takes time and generations to revitalize a language.
What’s one thing that you want people to know about your work?
How much more is gained through language revitalization: culture, community, competency, and confidence all result as individuals take on the challenge.
What was the biggest challenge or accomplishment in your work last year?
Time or lack of it. Everyone is so busy, struggling to keep things going, that finding time to get together for trainings and workshops is harder and harder to arrange. In spite of it all, we still managed to complete one of our biggest workshops, which is for language groups without living speakers of their languages: the Breath of Life Archival Institute at UC Berkeley. We were also able to start work on our new Family Language Program, and brought together our Master-Apprentice teams and families for a successful training and workshop last August.
What do you see happening in your field—or beyond, in the world—that you’re really excited about?
In this exciting UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages, we are seeing a much greater emphasis placed on Indigenous language revitalization than we have witnessed in the past. It has brought Indigenous language speakers from across the nation and the world together to address the critical needs facing their communities and highlighted how language revitalization is the key to addressing so many of the world’s climactic and community problems. In our own extended community of language learners and speakers, we are seeing remarkable breakthroughs in language usage and ascendency.
What matters most to you right now?
Keeping this very positive and important work going.
What does service mean to you?
The Advocates’ service means helping and supporting as many individuals as we possibly can to regain their language and their culture. It means long hours for our board members, but we strive to respond to everyone who comes to us and provide them with the training, resources, and inspiration that will make a change in their language communities.
What keeps you going?
Seeing the success of the Master Apprentice program and how many tribes and communities it has affected in a very positive way.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
The Advocates are always working, attending ceremony, creating art, working on language—it’s what keeps us going. Language work is never done.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
It took a while to decide. I originally wanted to be something like a geologist, a biologist, then a pharmacist, but then I found a calling in my own culture through basketweaving and was drawn to cultural revitalization, as I saw many tribal teachings slipping away, including our language. I decided to become educated in linguistics, anthropology, and how language makes a positive impact on communities, and have been doing that ever since.
Do you have a favorite place in nature?
I enjoy the Kings River, high up in the mountains where my people are from; that really makes me feel connected to the earth and to my ancestors and brings me peace.
What is one word in your Native language you really love, and what does it mean?
My current favorite word is tatsibiya which means to do one’s best.
Have you always spoken your language, and if not, what brought you back?
It was not my first language, but as a teen I became more interested and invested in learning, and I am still learning, and teaching, as I go.
One thing you would like your grandparents to know about you that they probably wouldn’t if you didn’t tell them?
When they thought I wasn’t listening, I was. That’s why I think it’s important to teach as much as you can to your kids and grandkids, tell them the stories and talk to them in the language; they may not seem interested now, but one day they will want to know.