Torah Harding-Laman, a Lee University senior anthropology major, recently presented her research at the annual meeting of the Society for Applied Anthropology in Portland, Oregon, March 19-23. Her project is titled, “Wayi Wah! (“Let’s Go!”): Tsimshian and Language Revitalization in Southeast Alaska.”
Harding-Laman is a Tsimshian Native American from Ketchikan, Alaska. With a stipend from Lee University’s McNair Scholars program, Harding-Laman spent the summer at home where she immersed herself in Tsimshian culture and the study of Shm’algyack, the Coast Tsimshian language.
“My mother has been the key to my research,” Harding-Laman said. “She works for the tribe and has made lots of connections for me. The more I learn about Tsimshian, the more I learn about myself. When I learned that Tsimshian believe everything is connected, and all humans are part of the whole creation, I thought, ‘That is exactly who I am.’”
Her paper provided a history of language loss, the language’s current state, and revitalization mechanisms of the Shm’algyack language. Her research includes interviews with 30 reliable informants connected to Sm’algyack language revitalization. Despite oppression and abuse of the Tsimshian for speaking Sm’algyack, fluent elders are working with linguists, teachers, and students to preserve the language.
Due to dedicated Tsimshian elders, teachers, and students, Shm’algyack perseveres within and beyond Southeast Alaska. Mentor-apprentice programs teach new speakers, organizations have been established for Shm’algyack revitalization, and policies have been initiated to validate Shm’algyack as an official state language.
The SfAA Annual Meeting provides an opportunity for scholars, practicing social scientists, and students from a variety of disciplines and organizations to discuss their work, trade ideas, and brainstorm practical solutions with SfAA members from a variety of disciplines.
For more information about the SfAA, visit https://www.sfaa.net/annual-meeting/.