History

The National Breath of Life Institute for Indigenous Languages is based on the model of the Breath of Life Language Restoration Workshop for California Indians which was first offered in 1996 by the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival (AICLS) in partnership with the University of California at Berkeley.  The one week California workshop is held biennially, on even years, at the University of California at Berkeley. The primary focus is to help indigenous communities interested in utilizing linguistic documentation find and learn how to make use of the rich archival field notes and recordings that are available on their languages. The most recent CA workshop was held in June 2016.

The design and long-term success of the California workshop influenced the development of additional programs. The “Breath of Life – Silent No More” concept and name also spread to Oklahoma where workshops in 2010, 2012, and 2014 were held at the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma.

The National Breath of Life Archival Institute developed in Washington DC to allow the extensive archival collections at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archives (NAA) of the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the Library of Congress to be available to tribal communities. First organized in 2011 and originally partnered with the Endangered Language Fund, the current National Breath of Life planning team is spearheaded by the Myaamia Center at Miami University and the Recovering Voices Program of the Smithsonian Institution. It has always been the hope of the original organizers that additional spin-off workshops would develop in locations where significant archival collections exist.

The Breath of Life workshops have been particularly helpful to communities who have lost their speakers and are in need of archival materials for language reconstruction and/or initiating the work of revitalization in their homes or communities.  Communities that may still have speakers have also found learning to utilize archival materials equally useful to their language efforts.

Lectures and workshops are held on linguistics, language teaching and learning, and language revitalization, and at least half of every day is spent in the archives. Participants are also able to research historical, genealogical and photograph collections, as well as artifact collections in the museums. Each language team has one of more linguistic partners assisting them in their work.