Jessie Little Doe Baird, director and co-founder of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project (WLRP), was recently awarded a prestigious “Genius Grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Since the WLRP was founded in 1993, she has been dedicated to teaching and revitalizing the Wôpanâak language. While the recognition Baird is receiving from the MacArthur foundation is recent, Baird has been working tirelessly on this project for years. The Wôpanâak language was dormant for approximately 150 years before Baird and members of the Mashpee, Aquinnah, Assonet & Herring Pond Wampanoag communities began their revitalization efforts. Now, six speakers have reached conversational fluency, and Baird’s six-year-old daughter has become the first Native speaker of Wôpanâak since the mid 19th century after Baird raised her to speak Wôpanâak as her mother tongue.
Baird says she plans to use some of the MacArthur grant to purchase audio and video recording equipment necessary to produce state-of-the-art language materials. Baird’s struggle to revitalize a language that many claimed would never be spoken again is extraordinarily inspiring. To learn more about the project, visit the WLRP website. To read more about Baird’s receipt of the grant, visit The Enterprise’s website.