Wampanoag Language Programs to Expand in Mashpee with Grant Funding

MASHPEE – The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project will receive more than $1.3 million in grant funding to support the teaching, learning and studying of the Mashpee Wampanoag’s native language.

The 5-year grant from the Department of Education’s Native American Alaska Native Children in School program will support the project which focuses on increasing proficiency in both Wôpanâak and English among Wampanoag students enrolled in the Mashpee School District.

“This is going to help our language teachers and linguists expand our high school classes in Mashpee Public Schools all the way from 8th grade to 12th grade,” said Jennifer Weston, the program director.

There are currently two Wôpanâak language classes being taught at the high school and the funding will increase that number to five.

The project will also use funds to add after school programming. The programs will be held three days a week at the Kenneth C. Coombs School and Quashnet School.

“Those probably could start as early as next month,” Weston said.

Weston is also excited that the grant funding will give them an opportunity to illustrate and publish a large body of Wôpanâak-English literature for students and families.

“We’ll also be able to work with some other indigenous language authors who have already published their books in other native languages and we will translate those into Wôpanâak for our families as well,” Weston said.

The funding will also support a Wôpanâak-focused summer program, along with integrating native authors and filmmakers into the English Language Arts curriculum at the Mashpee Public Schools.

“This is an opportunity for all students in Mashpee to learn about indigenous cultures and languages in history,” Weston said.

This year’s grant cycle was competitive with only seven awardees.

“The Mashpee Public Schools is very excited that the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project receives funding for the ‘Numukayuhsunônak: Our Children Speak Two Languages’ project,” said Patricia DeBoer, the superintendent of Mashpee Public Schools.

“We look forward to the expanded learning opportunities that this grant will provide to our Native American students. We greatly value our positive and productive partnership with WLRP and with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.”

Weston said everyone is proud that after several generations without fluent speakers there is now a cohort of young students in the immersion school who hear the language every day and have great comprehension.

“Our big challenge is just getting them to converse together in the language because we know they are not hearing it on the radio yet, not hearing it on television or not hearing it widely spoken in the community,” Weston said.

“So this is just another step in growing the many ways that we can re-integrate the Wôpanâak language into the social and cultural life of Cape Cod where it had a very integral place for many thousands of years.”

The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project is a 25-year-old nonprofit dedicated to reclaiming the Wompanoag language. More than 150 years after the language went dormant, the reclamation is proving vital to the cultural and spiritual foundations of tribal families.

By BRIAN MERCHANT, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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