History

The National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages (National BoL) was created based on the model of the Breath of Life Language Restoration Workshop for California Indians. This workshop was first offered in 1996 by the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival (AICLS) in partnership with the University of California at Berkeley. The most recent workshop was held in June 2018.

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 other venues. In 2003 and 2005, the University of Washington held workshops focusing on languages of the states of Oregon and Washington. In 2012 and 2014 the Sam Noble Museum at the University of Oklahoma held workshops as well. In 2015, the first workshop outside of the United States was held at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

The first National BoL workshop was held in Washington, DC for access to the extensive archival collections at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Archives (NAA) of the National Museum of Natural History, in the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), and in the Library of Congress. This was the first workshop with a national scope. With four iterations between 2011 and 2017, the National BoL has provided training in archives-based linguistic research to 117 tribal representatives from 55 language communities who are actively working to revitalize their highly endangered or silent languages.

The experience of these workshops have provided important insights regarding the development of community-curated archival databases for revitalization. First, Community Archivists reach a point of readiness for different phases of the philology work at different times and paces. Second, the advanced phase of data processing involved in Native American philology work is iterative, requiring adjustments to work methods and research principles at the level of data processing and organization. This capacity building effort also takes time, resources, and leadership. In response, developed advanced training modules designed for community researchers, archivists, linguists, and language teachers to develop the necessary skills to carry out the long-term process of archive-based research for revitalization. These modules are built into the National Breath of Life Model for Native American Philology. The first of these workshops took place in Summer 2019 at the Myaamia Center at Miami University in Oxford, OH. The second workshop is planned for Summer 2021 to be hosted by the Northwest Indian Language Institute at the University of Oregon in Eugene, OR. In addition, The National BoL is currently developing self-paced training that combines asynchronous methods to deliver distance training on demand with synchronous direct support from the National Breath of Life Archives Development Trainer –a new position created to support Community Researchers through all phases of the Native American philology model.

The longevity, stability and growth of National BoL has been the result of several collaborations including partners such as the Recovering Voices initiative at the Smithsonian Institution, the Myaamia Center at Miami University, the Endangered Language Fund, and more recently the University of Oregon through its Northwest Indian Language Institute and the Linguistics Department’s Language Revitalization Lab.

For a more detailed history of National BoL see:
Baldwin, D., L. Hinton & G. Pérez Báez. 2018. The Breath of Life Workshops and Institutes. In L. Hinton, L. Huss and G. Roche (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Language Revitalization. New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

Fitzgerald, Colleen and Mary S. Linn. 2013. Training communities, training graduate students: The 2012 Oklahoma Breath of Life Workshop. Language Documentation and Conservation 7, 185-206.

Quick Facts

Since 2011, National Breath of Life has supported:


  • 124 Community Researchers
  • 55 different languages
  • 7,660 scanned pages

Organization

National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages (National BoL) has been the result of several collaborations including partners such as the Recovering Voices initiative at the Smithsonian Institution, the Myaamia Center at Miami University, the Endangered Language Fund, and more recently the Linguistics Department Language Revitalization Lab and the Northwest Indian Language Institute both at the University of Oregon. Each partner plays an important role in the development of the institute and the implementation of the current workshops as described below.

Myaamia Center

The Myaamia Center at Miami University currently serves as the institutional home for National BoL. The founding organizers of National BoL approached the Myaamia Center in 2013 seeking to provide an organizational home and long-term stability for the program. Since 2014 the center’s main function in National BoL is to manage grant funds, provide technical development and offer organizational support.

Recovering Voices

The Recovering Voices Program of Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has played a critical role in logistical planning and facilitating access to archival materials for the four National BoL workshops held in Washington, D.C.

The Language Revitalization Lab

Directed by National BoL co-director Pérez Báez, the Linguistics Department Language Revitalization Lab at the University of Oregon is developing an academic training hub to support the work of Community Research teams both through additional degree-based training and through data processing support.

Northwest Indian Language Institute (NILI)

The Northwest Indian Language Institute (NILI) at the University of Oregon will be organizing and hosting a National BoL 2.0 workshop in the city of Eugene in Summer 2021.

The National Breath of Life Advisory Committee

This committee currently has 7 committee members who maintain the vision of National BoL and guide the workshop participant selection process. The committee consists of individuals who have extensive experience in language revitalization, documentation, and archival use for revitalization.

The current committee consists of:

  • Daryl Baldwin, Director, Myaamia Center at Miami University
  • Robert Elliott, Associate Director and Senior Researcher, Northwest Indian Language Institute, University of Oregon
  • Dr. Leanne Hinton, Emerita Professor of Linguistics, University of California at Berkeley
  • Dr. Mary Linn, Curator of Cultural and Linguistic Revitalization, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution
  • Debbie Morillo, Board Member, Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival (AICLS)
  • Margaret Noodin, Assistant Professor of English and American Studies, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
  • Dr. Gabriela Pérez Báez, Assistant Professor, Department of Linguistics, University of Oregon