Organizers at a gathering this week in Whitehorse say it’s time to find new ways to preserve First Nation languages.
Yukon’s Indigenous languages are in critical decline and the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) is looking for different approaches to a long-standing concern — how to ensure those languages survive.
About 60 people gathered at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse over two days to share their ideas at the “Voices For Change” gathering.
Chief Steve Smith of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations says the Southern Tutchone language is in decline. He says simply learning the language is different from hearing it and using it in daily life.
It’s a small group of individuals who actually have Southern Tutchone as a first language, and those who actually grew up in the language — that’s a big difference from speaking it from a more learned-type approach.” he said.
Read more: CBC News
Riley Vance is perched on a wooden horse in his Whitehorse-area daycare when he starts singing about tidying up in Southern Tutchone, an aboriginal language with fewer than 50 fluent speakers left.
The three-year-old’s ditty is the fruit of an effort in Yukon’s Kwanlin Dun First Nation to teach dozens of children words and phrases in the endangered language daily at a local head-start program. They now have the first ever children’s book in the language.
“We’re at a critical stage with our language with only a few fluent speakers left, so it’s been exciting to have them singing nursery rhymes,” said Erin Pauls, who runs the Dusk’a Head Start program.
The Kwanlin Dun’s work has received royal attention. Prince William and his wife, Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, sat down in Whitehorse in late September with 25 children, an elder and the Southern Tutchone children’s book, which tells the story of William the moose searching for his son George. (The characters were named in honour of the royal visit.)
It is all part of an unprecedented effort by First Nations across Canada to save their struggling languages as fluent elders die off, the legacy of the residential school system’s attempt to suppress indigenous culture. First Nations leaders say that with forecasts that half of their elders will be gone within six years, the added sense of urgency has been channelled into children’s books, grade-school programs, smartphone apps and other initiatives.
Read more: The Globe and Mail
A group of Haida elders in their nineties gathered around a microphone on Lucy Bell’s dining room table. Every Haida word they spoke into it was another word recorded for future generations.
It was a touching experience for Bell. Her grandmother spoke Haida, a language also known as Xaad Kil and X̱aaydaa Kil when she was young.
“Many in my generation grew up hearing it but not speaking it, and knowing how precious it was to learn it,” said Bell, now 45 and co-ordinator at Haida Gwaii’s Xaad Kihlga Hl Suu.u Society of language. She learned Haida as an adult.
Indigenous languages in Canada are declining as elder native speakers die. Not long after Bell made the Haida recordings, two of the elders who participated passed away.
Read more: The Tyee