By Allan Hayton
Doyon Foundation Language Revitalization Program Director
Evan Gardner and Susannah Ciotti returned to Fairbanks for a month-long series of Where Are Your Keys (WAYK) workshops, hosted by Doyon Foundation in January. The WAYK system is a comprehensive method for revitalizing endangered languages and skills.
Athabascan languages, as with all Alaska Native languages, are endangered, some with only a handful of speakers. As we are losing more and more first language Athabascan speakers, it is important to find engaging ways for young learners to begin picking up the languages.
WAYK is a fun method for beginning learners, using sign language to avoid the use of English in the learning setting. Many of the signs, or techniques, such as “angel on your shoulder,” “mumble,” “slow down,” and “again” are geared toward beginning learners and the challenges they face. WAYK trainings give a good picture of what language revitalization looks and feels like by bringing together elders and speakers with new learners. It is always a great experience seeing people light up when they learn something new about their language.
Day-long refresher/introduction workshops were held focusing in on three languages: Gwich’in (January 2 in Fairbanks); Lower Tanana (January 16 in Fairbanks); and Upper Tanana (January 23 in Northway). Following the workshops were daily classes in each of the three languages. There were also participants from other Athabascan languages, as well as Ahtna and Alutiiq languages. Doyon Foundation assisted Grant Rebne gather 14 Ahtna Language Learners (ALL) for a language workshop. Providing the space is a great way for Doyon Foundation to help out another language revitalization effort.
The January 2 workshop was a great success, and in the follow-up sessions Evan and Susannah worked closely with Effie Kokrine Charter School language instructor Kenneth Frank on employing WAYK in his classroom. They also visited the Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’atoh Language Nest and Lower Tanana sessions with Sarah Silas at Denakkanaaga’, providing community organizing tips for each of the sites and language events they visited.
The month of WAYK workshops brought together the key teachers and perpetuators of culture and language learning in their communities, and there were many highlights. I was especially moved to see the people of Nenana and Minto coming together in the January 16 Lower Tanana workshop. It was also great having Lower Tanana and Gwich’in groups meeting together as one before dividing into focused language learning groups. This was also the first time Doyon Foundation has held a WAYK training in a rural community, Northway. In addition to the sessions at the Youth Center, WAYK was brought to the school where young students were led on “language learning walks” through the school.
It was a very good month, and we are happy for all those who attended. It is their participation that made this series of WAYK workshops a great success. Photos from the January workshops have been posted to the Doyon Foundation Facebook Page.
The staff of Doyon Foundation worked as a team on the 2016 WAYK series of language learning and teaching workshops. I would like to express my gratitude to the staff for their assistance on promotion, making phone calls, sending emails, organizing, making moose soup, and sacrificing a couple of Saturdays for these workshops.
Mahsi’ choo ts’a’ gwiinzii adak’ohtii, thank you and take care.