Several of our Myaamia Center staff just returned from the 2021 National Breath of Life Module 2 workshop that was held at the University of Oregon, August 9-13, 2021. In a previous post, I explained what National Breath of Life is, but here I want to talk about this year’s workshop and what was accomplished.
Since its inception in 2011, National Breath of Life has held two-week workshops in Washington D.C. that allowed participants to gain access to their archival documents as well as training for how to use them in language revitalization. After the 2017 workshop, the National Breath of Life team started thinking about how to advance the program and the work of the Tribal communities who participate. The Module 2 workshop was developed to provide teams with access to the Indigenous Languages Digital Archive (ILDA), a tool created by the Myaamia Center with significant support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Students from Miami’s Computer Science and Engineering program continue to do much of the development for ILDA. By using ILDA, communities are able to organize and directly connect analyzed data with high resolution scans of the original language materials. This means that language data within these archives is now searchable making both analysis and use of language data faster and more accessible.
National Breath of Life applied for a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Digital Humanities Advancement Grant (HAA-261218-18) to fund two Module 2 workshops. The first workshop took place at Miami University in 2019. Last week’s workshop at the University of Oregon was originally scheduled for 2020, but was postponed due to the Covid pandemic.
While the original plan was to hold an in-person workshop, we decided that the best way to move forward safely was to hold a hybrid workshop in which participants could decide to attend in-person or online. This year, we had nineteen participants from five communities, Shawnee, Pit River, Comanche, Warm Springs, and representatives from the Advocates for Indigenous California Languages Survival (AICLS) join us. During the week, they learned all about ILDA and how it could be used as a research tool for language revitalization. In addition to learning the technical details for how to populate their ILDA sites, they also worked on research plans for how they will reach their goals moving forward. By the end of the week, all teams had data uploaded into ILDA and the associated online dictionary.
In comparison to the Module 1 National Breath of Life workshops, Module 2 can seem a bit technical. For much of the time, participants are learning how to transcribe documents and upload them into ILDA. This means lots of time behind a computer doing really time-consuming and tedious work. However, on Friday we were able to hear directly from participants about what they had accomplished and why this work is so important. Each team was able to articulate not only what they had uploaded to ILDA, but they also spoke to why ILDA could be useful to their language revitalization efforts. Some teams had even shared their dictionary with their communities, making the language data immediately available for language learning.
Holding the National Breath of Life Module 2 workshop this year was not without its challenges. We had to postpone our original workshop a year, work within the always-changing COVID guidance, and engage with participants both online and in-person. Even with these challenges, the week was a wonderful opportunity to work with people from other communities who are also striving to use archival documents for their language revitalization. It is a time to learn from other communities and provide suggestions from what we have learned. Today I may be a little tired from this week-long conference all the way across the country, but I am even more energized to continue our work in language revitalization, which is the ultimate goal for National Breath of Life.