Restoring Indigenous knowledge systems and languages

Penn’s Educational Partnerships with Indigenous Communities builds alliances with Native Americans.

Language is an intrinsic part of culture and an essential way of sharing customs, knowledge, and belief systems. But in North America, Indigenous people historically were forced by the U.S. and Canadian governments to abandon their languages. Today, many Indigenous communities are engaging in a painstaking process of language recovery and rejuvenation. Penn’s Educational Partnerships with Indigenous Communities (EPIC) was created to support this effort.

Christina Frei stands and greets seated members of the Gibson family
Christina Frei, academic director for the Penn Language Center and director of EPIC, greets members of the Gibson family from the Deyohahá:ge: Indigenous Knowledge Centre in Ontario. (Image: Omnia)

Part of the Penn Language Center, EPIC was established through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities with a mission to share knowledge and resources with Indigenous communities while working to expand the number of Indigenous languages offered for instruction at the University. It was developed by the late Timothy Powell, a senior lecturer in religious studies.

“EPIC brings together language educators, curriculum developers, and scholars from Native American communities and the humanities at Penn,” says EPIC director Christina Frei.

A two-day conference in April 2019, “Indigenous Knowledge Systems: Revitalization, Resistance, and Regeneration,” provided the first opportunity for EPIC’s partners to come together on campus.

“That first meeting kicked things into motion, and we are now following up with a white paper for the NEH in which we will articulate our action plan for moving forward,” says Frei, who is also executive director of language instruction and chair of the Penn Language Center. A second meeting planned for April 2020 will provide an opportunity to articulate specific tribal needs and identify common themes for the next NEH grant proposal—such as digital repatriation, land equity, professionalization, and establishing long-term alliances among the partners.

This story is by Jane Carroll. Read more at Omnia