Wampanoag Tribe Certifies 10 Wôpanâak Language Teachers

Immersion camp participants pose for a photo.Since 1993, The Wampanoag Tribes of Mashpee, Aquinnah, and Herring Pond have worked together to develop the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project (WLRP) to reintroduce use of the Wôpanâak language. Previous language efforts include Wôpanâak dictionaries, a grammatical framework, and language classes. But according to the Tribes,  the main challenge to successfully restoring the language as the primary means of communication among Wampanoag people is the lack of fluent qualified teachers.

Therefore, the Tribes implemented the “Nuwôpanâôt8âm, I Speak Wampanoag” project, implemented by the nonprofit organization Wopanaak Language and Cultural Weetyoo, Inc. and funded by a 2-year (2010-2012) Native Languages Maintenance and Preservation grant from the Administration for Native Americans. 

The project used master-apprentice (MA) methodology to train speakers to gain significant fluency in the Wôpanâak language and become competent teachers. Each week the master speaker and project director, Jessie little doe Baird, assigned hours to the apprentices in the following areas: planning activities, independent study, apprentice-to-apprentice interaction, non-immersion instruction, and curriculum development. The apprentices completed a total of 10,166 MA hours across the two project years. 

To measure the apprentices’ language acquisition, independent evaluators utilized the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages scale of proficiency. All apprentices started on the Novice scale and now their fluency ranges from Intermediate Low to Advanced Middle. An independent evaluator stated “The [apprentices]…are all people I have known for years, and I have never seen any of them so fluent.”

Apprentices also focused on creating material for content areas following state curriculum guidelines, such as storytelling and basic health conversation. The curriculum they created includes terminology, activities, grammar lessons, and teaching methodologies.

In addition, WLRP developed and implemented a teacher certification process, with a written and oral exam, that determines the level at which language teachers can teach Wôpanâak.  Through this project, WLRP developed three fluent speakers, improved the language speaking abilities of over 100 people, and went from having a few moderately qualified teachers to 10 certified teachers, with more in training. 

To continue these benefits, Wopanaak Language and Cultural Weetyoo, Inc. received a new ANA grant in 2012 for a 3-year project to write Wôpanâak language and culture curriculum for kindergarten through third grade, and to apply for a charter school. WLRP staff is hopeful this project has laid the foundation for establishing an immersion school that will instill confidence and pride in Native youth, and create a comfortable and encouraging environment to further support language and cultural learning.

ANA funding provides opportunities to assess, plan, develop and implement projects to ensure the survival and continuing vitality of Native languages. Learn more about ANA funding for Native languages.