The Program



Iḷisaqativut is a two-week Iñupiaq language intensive, August 4 - 17, 2019 in Qikiqtaġruk (Kotzebue).

The first Iḷisaqativut was held in May 2017 in Utqiaġvik, and the second in June 2018 in Siqnasuaq (Nome).

Iḷisaqativut offers an opportunity to learn Iñupiaq in a dedicated space.

We pool together our language resources to enhance accessibility for aspiring speakers. Many second-language speakers have spent years picking up a little here, a little there, working with fluent speakers when we can, paying out of our own pockets for college courses, gathering resources as we find them. Iḷisaqativut is driven by the philosophy that learning Iñupiaq should be no harder than learning Spanish or French.

Iḷisaqativut is designed to be intensive and fast-paced.

As a result, Iḷisaqativut is hard. Participants should expect to be challenged in ways they may not have been on their language journeys so far; this is especially true for those with less prior exposure to Iñupiaq.

The organizers are a grassroots group who are fellow second-language learners as much as teachers.

More advanced learners should expect to help carry the load of sharing knowledge and preparing lessons, while those with less experience should expect to spend extra time on individual study in order to keep up with the fast pace.



Iḷisaqativut’s goal is to take participants “inside” Iñupiaq language.

Some parts of language-learning are more difficult to learn from native speakers or from studying on our own. We study these mechanics of the language — components of Iñupiaq words, combining word parts, and grammar. We strive to be able to communicate with each other in Iñupiaq.

The actual syllabus for Iḷisaqativut 2019 will depend on the language experience of those who attend. Content may include:

  • Pronunciation of Iñupiaq sounds.

  • Creating Iñupiaq words and sentences — how to combine word parts (stems, postbases, and endings) to create complete sentences.

  • Locating yourself in the Iñupiaq world, a.k.a. demonstrative pronouns — the universe of terms Iñupiaq uses to express where things are around you.

  • Verb tenses — including present, future, and past, as well as how to ask questions and, potentially, formulate multi-clause ideas (e.g. “he went hunting because his family needed food”). Explanation of the difference between "transitive" and "intransitive" verbs.

  • Noun cases — the word endings Iñupiaq uses to express things like motion towards or away from an object, similarity of objects, and location of objects.

Iḷisaqativut’s approach is to share a large number of concepts in our short time together; this is what makes the program challenging.



WEEK 1 Camping in wall tents

Aug. 4 - 10 at Camp Sivuniigvik outside Kotzebue, thanks to generous support from Aqqaluk Trust

WEEK 2 Find own lodging

Aug. 11 - 17 in town in Kotzebue

Learning at Iḷisaqativut

Iḷisaqativut is a full-time commitment — most of the day every day for the full two weeks.


About 3 hours per day. Guided by the Curriculum team (more advanced learners and past Iḷisaqativut participants).


We will spend time with elders, go outdoors, learn songs and dance, listen to stories, or even teach a language class with community participants.


At least 2 hours of individual study per day. Most past participants spent many more. On most evenings, we will gather together to cook, eat, speak, laugh, and learn from each other. There will also be down time; people should expect to direct their own experience at times—make friends! take a walk! play games! or relax with a book.

The single best way to learn a language is to speak it.

We will speak as much Iñupiaq as possible. However, learning some grammar will require use of English.

Our days may change on the fly.

Iḷisaqativut is still new. We expect that we — all of us — will be learning as we go. We're sure some things will work better than others; and great things we didn’t even think of will arise.


At the end of two weeks, you will have foundational knowledge of the “inside” of Iñupiaq.

You’ll better understand how the language works — why many words are so long, how a single word can be a complete sentence, and much more. You’ll be prepared to continue learning at home, talking with fluent speakers, and communicating with your language-learning friends. You’ll also be much better prepared to teach other learners in your own community.