Introducing the National Breath of Life Apprenticeship Program

Introducing the National Breath of Life Apprenticeship Program

In March 2022, National Breath of Life was pleased to launch the National Breath of Life Apprenticeship program with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

As community-directed language revitalization activities continue to grow and expand, it’s clear more resources, training, and deepening our understanding of the needs this work demands are important to our overall development. 

National Breath of Life staff and participants gather around Jerome Viles’s computer during a workshop in Washington D.C. 2017. Photo by Karen Baldwin, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma 

National Breath of Life (National BoL) evolves its training to directly respond to many of the individual needs communities have when using language archives for revitalization activities, including setting up and managing a community-curated language archive. The apprenticeship program is one important aspect that responds to this growth by providing tailored training from the National BoL Archives Development Trainer, Jerome Viles. The goal of this training is to build out their ILDA databases and dictionaries to a point of usability where the archive can more directly respond to individual community revitalization needs. 

Since 2011, National BoL has worked with 65 Indigenous language communities and 137 Community Archivists to connect communities with the nation’s most comprehensive archival collections and provide training in the skills needed to launch and sustain successful archival development. Over the years, we have evaluated our workshops and gained insight into the obstacles and challenges that emerge when working with archival materials. In response to this, National BoL created the Native American Philology Model, a three-phase training trajectory guiding communities from (1) Gathering archival materials to (2) Processing those materials into accessible, usable applications, and finally (3) Weaving those materials into community-level education through the use of user-friendly applications.  

The apprenticeship program responds directly to the language programming needs of each community and supports their efforts as they move into the third phase of increasing their ILDA content capacity, refining data management, and integrating the ILDA dictionary into community programming. 

Every language community is unique, and the path each community takes in its revitalization journey reflects the needs of that unique community. The apprenticeship program is an advanced level of training that allows language teams to grow their archives while receiving mentorship for emerging community scholars and archivists between National BoL training workshops

National Breath of Life participants at a 2017 workshop in Washington D.C. Photo by Karen Baldwin, Miami Tribe of Oklahoma 

The ILDA software allows language teams to easily share their data across several instructional and educational tools, however, analyzing and entering this data into the digital archive requires extensive training and processing time. The work of each apprentice is determined by the development goals of their community. Currently, National BoL apprentices are transcribing original source material, developing dictionaries using the ILDA dictionary platform, and digitizing language materials to build language archives.  

National BoL is currently training 13 apprentices from 10 participant communities. These apprentices were identified by community language leaders based on prior engagement with language programming and then offered an opportunity to participate with community mentor support. Each apprentice works closely with Jerome to increase the capacity and usability of their ILDA database and build a sense of support and collaboration within National BoL as a long-term partner in their efforts. 

To continue building this sense of community within the program, Jerome has been planning visits to many participant communities and virtual gatherings for apprentices to get together and work through ILDA troubleshooting or other language work together. These planned visits allow National BoL staff to better understand the communities we work with and learn on a deeper level their language revitalization goals, so we may provide tailored programming to each community. 

The work of these apprentices will allow new archival resources to be more readily available for their teams to research, analyze, and make useful for community language programming and classes. Keep an eye out for future posts to learn more about our apprentices! 

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