ILDA

Indigenous Languages Digital Archive

The Indigenous Languages Digital Archive (ILDA) is a web based archive designed specifically to support tribal efforts in archives-based language revitalization. ILDA allows for the organization, storage, retrieval, and analysis of digitized archival linguistic materials, and associated data, for the purpose of informing language revitalization and educational efforts by tribal communities.

ILDA began development in 2012 through the Myaamia Center (MC) with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (Inokaatawaakani Project - Illinois Project, PD-50017-12). The first iteration of development created the Miami-Illinois Digital Archive (MIDA). Since July 2015, when the initial NEH grant came to a close, the Myaamia Center has continued development of MIDA in a number of significant areas related to its functionality and stability. Tribal researchers and educational teams have made significant use of the MIDA data for their respective work and this level of ‘real application’ revealed further needs for continued modification and development. The history of MIDA is detailed in this article.

During 2016 more developments were made to MIDA and the Myaamia Center began to discuss the possibility of sharing this software with other tribal communities engaged in archives-based research for revitalization. The experiences with three iterations of the National Breath of Life Archival Institute for Indigenous Languages in 2011, 2013 and 2015, as well as the experiences gained through the Community Research Program of the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices initiative, revealed an evolution in the sophistication of archives-based research for revitalization and therefore a need for software to support it. It was determined that the best place to continue further testing the ability to share the software was with a team of tribal language researchers from a completely different language family than Miami-Illinois (Algonquian).

In partnership with the Recovering Voices initiative at the Smithsonian Institution, a team of Nuu-wee-ya’ (Oregon Dene) researchers who were National BoL alumni was identified as a group who could do rigorous testing and provide feedback to the development team all the while benefiting from the software. Nuu-wee-ya’ is a continuum of dialects belonging to the larger Athabaskan language family. They present significant structural differences compared to Miami-Illinois, which belongs to the Algonquian family. The Nuu-wee-ya’ team was already working on a dictionary project supported by the National Science Foundation Documenting Endangered Languages (NSF-DEL) grant (Award Number: 1562859) and were struggling to find adequate software for their research and revitalization needs. After initial consultation with the Nuu-wee-ya’ team they agreed to test a version of Miami-Illinois Digital Archive, which would later be renamed Indigenous Languages Digital Archive (ILDA).

During the summer of 2017, the Myaamia Center and Recovering Voices worked together to bring the Nuu-wee-ya’ team to Washington D.C. in tandem with the biennial National BoL to test the first iteration of ILDA. This was done by uploading digital surrogates of archival materials, transcribing them, processing transcriptions, and presenting their work to the National BoL participants. National BoL staff were most interested in the direct experience of the Nuu-wee-ya’ team as well as the responses from the National BoL participants upon learning of ILDA as a tool that could become available to a broad set of research teams in a modified format.

The outcome was tremendously positive. Since the initial pilot, the Nuu-wee-ya’ team has settled on the ILDA as their tool of choice for the completion of their NSF-DEL-funded research. The team has had few issues making use of the software for their language, which indicates there is a broad application regardless of language structure. The success of this early pilot effort is at the core of the rationale for making ILDA available in the National BoL 2.0 workshop model as a way to continue supporting archives-based research for language revitalization.

To assure reliable and secure operation, ILDA is hosted by Miami University’s Information Technology (IT) Services secure data center. To assure adequately trained programming support, ILDA is implemented using the industry-standard programming languages and database technologies.