NILI Advisory Board


Dr. Virginia Beavert
Yakama Nation Elder, Sahaptin Language Teacher, University of Oregon

Virginia Beavert, a member of the Yakama Nation, is a highly respected teacher and fluent speaker of her language, Yakima Sahaptin. Virginia has worked throughout her life to teach and preserve her Native language. She has been the Washington State Indian Educator of the Year, and in 2004 was honored by the Indigenous Language Institute for her lifetime of work on language revitalization. She was a key planner of the Yakama exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, and has served on numerous committees and planning councils related to the documentation and preservation of Native languages.

In 2004, Virginia was the recipient of an NEH Faculty Research Award for work on a Yakima Sahaptin Lexicography. She has received numerous fellowships, including awards from the Smithsonian Institute, Dartmouth College, and the Washington State Arts Commission. She has written and published several articles about Yakima language and culture. Virginia is the co-author of the Yakima Sahaptin Dictionary with Dr. Sharon Hargus of the University of Washington, and on a grammar of Sahaptin with Joana Jansen of the University of Oregon. She is a 2007 recipient of the Ken Hale Prize, awarded by the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, and in 2008, was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Oregon for her significant contribution to the cultural development of Oregon and society as a whole. Virginia was awarded the University of Oregon Doctoral Research Fellowship, the highest honor for graduate study at UO. She earned her Ph.D. in Linguistics in 2012.

Marnie Atkins
Wiyot Tribe

marnieMarnie Atkins is from Northern California and is a citizen of the Wiyot Tribe.  She has worked in language revitalization for many years with her tribe as the Cultural Director and Language Program Coordinator. She continues to work with her ancestral language Sulótalak (commonly known as “Wiyot”) as a student and community language worker/advocate.  Marnie has Master degrees in Native Language Teaching Specialization and in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Oregon.


Sheila Bong
Program Director Global Studies Institute, Office of International Affairs, University of Oregon 

Sheila is a Blackfeet Tribal member who gained her deep appreciation for Native language preservation when she worked as a teenager transcribing oral traditions from the lips of Tribal Elders in her hometown of Browning, Montana. While written historical records serve practical purposes, Sheila was struck by the desperate need to save the Blackfeet language from extinction. She supports NILI’s mission and is honored to be a member of its Advisory Board.

Sheila was a high school exchange student in Japan for one year. She received her B.A. in International Relations from Stanford University followed by a career in international business. Her ability to speak Japanese was critical to her business success giving her a deeper appreciation for the power of language and culture. In 2001, she co-founded Avant Assessment in partnership with the University of Oregon and the Center for Applied Second Language Studies. Sheila currently serves as program director of the Global Studies Institute where she focuses on promoting and developing internationally-oriented programs, projects and initiatives to enhance faculty research, enrich the student experience, and showcase the University of Oregon’s academic excellence.

Spike Gildea
Professor of Linguistics, University of Oregon

Spike Gildea is a Professor of Linguistics and also a fourth-generation immigrant to Oregon, born in Salem and raised in the McKenzie Valley, just 30 miles east of Eugene. He got his BA in English Literature at the UO (1983), then spent two years in the Peace Corps teaching English in Nepal. A year after returning from Nepal, he entered the MA program in Linguistics at the UO, specializing in language teaching. He got both his MA (1989) and PhD (1992) at the UO, worked 2 years (1993-1994) as a visiting researcher at the Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi in Belém, Brazil, was a professor at Rice University (1995-2000), and then came back home to the UO in 2000 as a professor of Linguistics. He served as head of Linguistics from 2000-2006 and 2015-2018.

Spike’s academic research focuses on the description and comparison of Indigenous languages of South America, especially focusing on the Cariban language family, spoken in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and the three Guianas. As a comparative linguist, he focuses on reconstructing the grammar of proto-languages. He is also Editor of the book series Typological Studies in Language. In recent years, he has begun working on a literacy project in Brazil with bilingual educators who want to teach their children to read and write in the Katxuyana language. He has also begun to work with NILI colleagues and students to help better document and analyze languages of the Pacific Northwest, including Ichishkíin (with Joana Jansen), Lushootseed (with Zalmai Zahir), and Tututni (with Jaeci Hall).

Tony A. Johnson
Community Education Director, Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe

Tony Johnson is a Chinook Tribal member, a linguist and an artist who was born in his family’s traditional territory on Willapa Bay in Washington. His education includes attending the University of Washington and Central Washington University, where he earned a degree in Silversmithing and a minor in Anthropology.

Today, Tony directs the Community Education Program for the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe. Tony, who is a speaker of Chinuk Wawa, learned it as a second language from his own elders as well as the elders of the Grand Ronde community.

Jeff Magoto
Director, Yamada Language Center, University of Oregon

Jeff Magoto is director of the Yamada Language Center. He’s been involved in foreign language teaching and training for more than 30 years, specializing in the uses of computer-based technologies for course authoring and materials development. He has been involved with NILI since 2000 and has taught methodology and computer-assisted language learning at previous summer institutes. He is also the director of the UO’s World Languages Academy, where the Sahaptin language program is currently housed. This allows him to be intimately involved with the challenges and rewards of Native language program development and revitalization.


Leilani Sabzalian
Professor of Education, University of Oregon

Leilani Sabzalian, who was born and raised in Oregon and is Alutiiq from the Native Village of Chignik Bay, is an Assistant Professor of Indigenous Studies in Education and the Co-Director of the Sapsik’wałá (Teacher) Education Program at the University of Oregon. Her work focuses on creating spaces to support Indigenous students in public schools, and preparing teachers to challenge colonialism in curriculum, policy, and practice. She also serves on the American Indian/Alaska Native State Advisory Committee and supports professional development for Senate Bill 13: Tribal History/Shared History throughout the state.

Dr. Drew Viles
Instructor, Language, Literature and Communication Division, Lane Community College

Photo by Jacob Wainwright Love

Drew Viles works as a full-time faculty member at Lane Community College where he is a member of the American Indian Language project. In cooperation with the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde Community and NILI, Drew has helped AIL initiate and oversee the Chinuk Wawa sequence of classes at LCC. He holds degrees from Blue Mountain Community College, Oregon State University, The University of Michigan and the University of Oregon. Drew has also successfully completed the Essential Skills for Tribal Court Judges course at The National Judicial College.Drew’s work in the field of Indigenous language revitalization started in the 1980s as a member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon’s Culture Committee. As recently as July, 2013, Drew traveled to Washington, D.C. as part of the Siletz delegation presenting at the Smithsonian Institution’s “One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage” program. Drew currently participates in a multilingual Indigenous language nesting project based in Eugene, where he and his former high-school sweetheart, Carla Chadwick Viles, have raised five children: Nicholas, Tyler, Jerome, Carson, and Rayna.

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