July 2018


Doyon Foundation hosted a language gathering for Nee’anděg’ (Tanacross) and Nee’aanèegn’ (Upper Tanana) languages on June 5, 6 and 7, 2018, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks – Tok Campus. The group of 25 participants met from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. all three days. The workshop, which was free and open to all, was a great opportunity for those wanting to learn or improve their skills in these languages.

Instructors Irene Arnold and Cheryl Silas, along with Elders and speakers from both languages, introduced learners to essentials of Nee’anděg’ (Tanacross) and Nee’aanèegn’ (Upper Tanana). Topics covered included basic literacy, conversation and listening.

“The most meaningful thing that I took away from the gathering was being there with the Elders and listening to them speak the language fluently with each other and being able to share that knowledge with the younger people that were there,” said participant Adena Cronk of Northway.

Among the activities, attendees learned and practiced introducing themselves in the language (see the Upper Tanana introduction worksheet here, and Tanacross introduction worksheet here), and translated “I am learning our language” with Elders. Tanacross instructor Irene Arnold shared a DVD titled “K’anech’oxdekdiigh: I’m Not Going to Teach You,” a collaboration between the Tanacross community and trained linguistic specialists from the Alaska Native Language Center. View the video here.

“The main takeaway for me was learning my introduction,” said participant Chance Shank of Dot Lake. He added, “I was glad to meet and speak with the other people at the gathering who are fluent in the language.”

Participant Peg Charlie of Tanacross agreed: “For someone who understands the language and grew up with it, it felt really good to be amongst our people and it was a good feeling to hear the language.”

At the gathering, Doyon Foundation staff also introduced the Doyon Languages Online project, which is working to create highly accessible online language-learning lessons for the endangered languages of the Doyon region.

There are currently two phases of the project. Phase one, which has funding support from the Administration of Native Americans (ANA), is focusing on five of the 10 Doyon region languages: Holikachuk, Denaakk’e (Koyukon), Benhti Kenaga’ (Lower Tanana), Hän, and Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in). Phase two, with funding support from the U.S. Department of Education – Alaska Native Educational Program (ANEP), will increase the number of people who speak the Doyon region languages of Nee’anděg’ (Tanacross), Nee’aanèegn’ (Upper Tanana), Deg Xinag and Denak’i (Upper Kuskokwim).

The Foundation is currently seeking people interested in working as content creators and linguistic consultants on the ANEP-funded phase of Doyon Languages Online. Find more information and apply on the Foundation blog.

The ANEP-funded phase of Doyon Languages Online is a partnership with the Alaska Gateway School District (AGSD), and this gathering served as a kick-off to the three-year project. AGSD Superintendent Scott MacManus joined the group discussion, and is very enthusiastic about working together on this project.

“It was exciting to see first hand, the building momentum for the work being done by the language revitalization group this summer, and Alaska Gateway School District is thrilled to be a partner in this important and life-changing project,” MacManus said.

The Iditarod Area School District is another grant partner, and plans are underway for a similar gathering in their region for Deg Xinag and Dinak’i languages.

Before the gathering concluded, the group decided on a series of action items for moving forward over the next couple of years. These included:

  • Building on the language network across Alaska
  • Greeting others in the language
  • Making labels in the home as a reminder to stay in the language
  • Connecting with other learners
  • Creating a language domain in the home (a place in the home where you will only speak in the language)

“It gave me a boost to want to work more with the language,” said participant Lorraine Titus of Northway. “What I enjoyed the most was the flexibility of the event; we got things done but we didn’t have to follow an agenda.”

“Tsin’ee to all who joined us in Tok for the Nee’anděg’ and Nee’aanèegn’ language gathering,” said Diloola Erickson, Doyon Languages Online project manager. “The work that came out of the gathering was amazing and we’re excited to start working more with the participants and their language communities in the future.”

The Foundation offers a special thank you to the Elders present at the gathering, including Avis Sam of Northway, Roy David of Tetlin, Rosa Brewer of Northway, Cora Demit of Northway and Lorraine Titus of Northway.

For more information on Doyon Foundation, Doyon Languages Online or upcoming language revitalization events, please visit www.doyonfoundation.com.

 

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