Laura Vang '15
Student Director for Conversations That Matter
Hometown: Memphis, TNRead the full interview
Mary Hiratsuka ’07
Lewin Post-Graduate Fellow 2007
Inuit and Yup’ik Language Preservation Project
Nuuk, Greenland and Dillingham, Alaska
Mary is a Native American Studies major at Dartmouth, and has focused extensively on international indigenous issues. In summer 2006, Mary worked as an intern for the First Alaskans Institute. This internship provided Mary with many contacts that will help her carry out her Fellowship successfully. When Dartmouth hosted the Arctic Science Summit in March 2007, Mary was able to meet with some influential native activists. This Summit also influenced her plans for her project, and provided the necessary burst in enthusiasm that allowed Mary to feel ready to devote a year to this pursuit.
For her Fellowship, Mary will be doing research on the success of Inuit language preservation among the native Greenlandic population. She will also be working closely with members of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) on issues regarding language. Mary hopes to have the opportunity to speak with radio hosts and popular musicians who sing in Greenlandic. After her time in Greenland, Mary will by flying home to Dillingham, Alaska in order to speak with community members and begin a language program based on her research in Nuuk. She hopes that by gaining understanding of the success of the Greenlandic language programs, she can better go about implementing a program of her own. While Mary does not yet know what type of program will make the most sense, possibilities include weekly radio programs in Yup’ik, language camps for children, presentations at local schools, and community outreach and activism. Mary’s previous work with the First Alaskans Institute and the connections she made during the Arctic Science Summit will be great resources for her to draw on.
Mary’s motivation for this project stems from her need to better understand and reinforce her Yup’ik identity. She worries that the Yup’ik language will die out with the elders in her community, unless something is done. She says,
As an indigenous person, my notions of service, citizenship and values are closely intertwined. […] Like many indigenous people, I was taught that I must use my educational opportunities to give back to my culture and community so that we can continue to survive as Yup’ik people—as an indigenous citizen, my sense of service is exercised by giving back to my culture and community.
Her sense of service to her community and her personal struggle to understand her own culture make this project meaningful both to her and to the community at large.
Mary hopes to begin the process of language acquisition for her community, but along the way, she hopes to gain personal knowledge and connections. She laments the fact that she calls herself Yup’ik and yet she does not know her own language. This Fellowship will not only help Mary come to terms with this hole in her cultural identity, but also aid those how also feel that hole.
Last Updated: 8/7/11