App saving indigenous Alaskan language from extinction

By Jessica Tyson

An Alaskan indigenous community is saving their language and heritage on the brink of extinction with the help of Māori technology company Kiwa Digital.

Kiwa Digital and the Native Village of Afognak have launched a new app Katurlita! - Let's All Gather to communicate the importance, resilience and richness of their unique culture and heritage. Members of the Native Village are Alutiiq, the indigenous people of the Kodiak Island Archipelago in the Gulf of Alaska who have inhabited their traditional lands for over 7,500 years.

Native Village of Afognak tribal administrator JJ Orloff says the goal is to bring the expertise, knowledge and sensitivity of their elders into the digital age.

“This will ensure cultural continuity, where our young people remain strong in retaining their language, culture and heritage.”

The app provides information on history, places, language, values, cultural knowledge and traditional arts while using audio, text, video and song.

Highlights include an interactive map teaching pronunciation of key sites, a section where users can listen to 'Voices of our Elders', a tool where they can develop their own introduction in the Alutiiq language.

CEO of Kiwa Digital Steven Renata, of Ngāpuhi, has congratulated the Native Village for their bold move into future learning.

”Along with indigenous groups around the world, they see language as a taonga that must be protected and technology as key to survival.”

About the Native Village of Afognak

The people of Native Village of Afognak are the descendants of the original Alutiiq inhabitants of the village of Ag’waneq, which was located on the island of Afognak 5 kms off the shore of Kodiak Island.

Members inhabited their ancestral village until the Great Earthquake and Tsunami of 1964. Today many live and work in the City of Kodiak, the village of Port Lions, Anchorage and the Lower 48 States.

Their language is one of 20 Alaskan languages officially identified as at risk of extinction.