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Preserving Indigenous Language through Social Media

Gail Smithhisler. Photo courtesy of Gail Smithhisler.

In the vast landscapes of Alaska, over 20 Alaska Native languages has been handed down through generations. Yet, the last century has seen a decline in fluent speakers due to the impacts of colonization. In Nome, one woman is leveraging the power of social media to breathe new life into the Inupiaq language. Gail Smithhisler, a Nome resident, is the driving force behind the “Iñupiaq Word of the Day” Facebook and TikTok page. Gail posts daily videos on her page, where she imparts the meanings, spellings, and provides phonetic pronunciations of words and phrases from the Inupiaq language. Gail grew up listening to her grandparents and elders in Nome conversing in Iñupiaq. 

In her quest to reach a broader audience, Gail expanded to TikTok in 2020. Her videos have garnered tens of thousands of views and thousands of followers. She notes that TikTok, being popular among younger demographics, bridges the generational gap in language revitalization, a crucial element in preserving the vitality of the language. She advises language learners not to be disheartened by corrections, as they usually come from a place of genuine concern, even if the delivery may not be ideal. Gail underscores the importance of persevering.

Image at the top: Photo of Gail Smithhisler. Photo by Gail Smithhisler, used with permission.

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We acknowledge that KNOM Radio Mission is located on the customary lands of Indigenous peoples. 

Based in the Bering Strait region, KNOM broadcasts throughout the homelands of the Iñupiaq, Siberian Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Yup’ik peoples.