AILDI was founded in 1978 with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Hualapai educator and language activist, Lucille Watahomigie with Dr. Leanne Hinton, linguist at the University of California Berkeley, received funding to develop a Yuman Language Workshop targeting Digueno, Havasupai, Hualapai, Mohave and Yavapai language communities.
The first workshop was held at San Diego State University. The topic was Historical/Comparative Linguistics: Syntax and Orthography of Yuman Languages. The workshop was designed for speakers of the language to share linguistic and cultural knowledge and to develop educational materials to aid in the teaching of their language to younger community members.
The next year another workshop, four weeks in length, was held at Arizona State University and the focus was on Orthography, Phonetics, Phonology and Curriculum Development. Native language speakers joined with academic linguists to examine their languages and to create writing systems and teaching materials. For approximately a decade, the work of the language institute was hosted by several rotating schools and universities including Northern Arizona University, Arizona State University, Southwest Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the University of Arizona.
Finally in 1990, the American Indian Language Development Institute, found a permanent home at the University of Arizona. With support from the department of Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies (formerly known as Language, Reading and Culture) College of Education, American Indian Studies, Linguistics and the Graduate College, AILDI has been able to offer a sustained Indigenous language education experience to hundreds of students, community members, educators, scholars, researchers and language advocates.