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Juneby’s lessons get new life through Doyon Languages Online partnership

For years, the lessons created by the late Isaac Juneby to share the endangered Hän language were used by a small group of dedicated learners from homemade photocopies and audio replicas of the original booklet and CD. Now, the lessons are getting new life through a partnership with Doyon Foundation, Transparent Languages and its nonprofit 7000 Languages, and support of Juneby’s family and community.

Juneby, a respected Alaska Native leader and wise Elder, was born to Willie and Louise Juneby in Eagle Village, Alaska, in July 1941. He died in a tragic car accident in July 2012 in Anchorage, Alaska.


Juneby was an early pioneer in the revitalization of Alaska Native languages, recognizing the need in the early 1990s. “He saw that we were losing the language, that young people didn’t know it. He was concerned about losing the language. It was important to him to write it, to get a book out,” shares his sister, Adeline Juneby Potts.

A fluent speaker of the Hän language, Juneby recorded the Hän language lessons in his Eagle dialect in 1994 with John Ritter of the Yukon Native Language Centre in Whitehorse, Yukon. The original tape of the lessons and accompanying booklet were made available in a limited run, but have long been out of circulation.

“He always contributed greatly with his deep knowledge of Hän language — and his great sense of humor. It was a joy to work with him, and such tragedy to lose him so suddenly a few years ago. Having these lessons out and available will enable his legacy to continue,” Ritter remarks. “The Doyon Foundation project breathed new life into teaching materials that had ‘sat on the shelf,’ unused and gathering dust, for quite some time. The new tools and formats enable this kind of resuscitation of still-valuable work from years ago.”

Juneby’s lessons are now available again, this time widely accessible to all interested learners online through Doyon Foundation’s Doyon Languages Online project. Doyon Languages Online is a partnership with 7000 Languages, a nonprofit that supports endangered language learning partially through software donated by Transparent Language.

“By posting Isaac’s language lessons in the Transparent Languages Online format, we hope to serve the needs of those wishing to advance their own speaking, listening and reading knowledge of the Hän language,” says Allan Hayton, director of Doyon Foundation’s language revitalization program.

“We dedicate this work to Isaac’s memory, knowing that our friend would be delighted to see his work available in a modern format,” Ritter adds.

The online lessons are based on Juneby’s original work with support from the Yukon Native Language Centre and the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The lessons are arranged in a seasonal activity format, September through June, but learners are free to access the material they are most interested in rather than follow a strict order. The lessons are now available via the Doyon Foundation website, and are free for all interested language learners to access.

“I hope that Isaac’s Hän language legacy embodied in these lessons will be enjoyed by all those interested in learning to speak and understand the ancestral language of the Hän Gwich’in of Eagle Village, Alaska,” says Juneby’s wife, Sandra Juneby.

The release of Juneby’s Hän language lessons offers a preview of the full Doyon Languages Online project, which is currently working to develop and release online language-learning lessons for nine of the 10 endangered languages of the Doyon region. The project is also working with Elder Ruth Ridley on another set of Hän language lessons.

“We are so honored to debut the Doyon Languages Online project with these very special lessons, and we are deeply grateful for the support of Isaac’s family and community,” says Doris Miller, Doyon Foundation executive director. “We hope these lessons will honor Isaac’s memory and carry forward his work to strengthen and share the Hän language with future generations.”

About Isaac Juneby

Juneby was born and raised in Eagle Village. He also spent time in the small, close-knit Hän community of people who lived and worked seasonally at Coal Creek and Woodchopper mining camps along the Yukon River. He attended grade school at Wrangell Institute and graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany. When Juneby returned home to Eagle Village, he was elected chief, making him the youngest leader ever elected to that position. Later he returned to school and earned a diploma at Sitting Bull College, and then a bachelor’s degree in rural development at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

During his lifetime, Juneby worked for a number of private, First Nations, federal and Alaska government organizations, always striving to help advance the cause of Native people. He was active in village tribal matters, subsistence issues, and hunting and fishing rights and management. He and his wife, Sandra, raised four children together, always maintaining their connection to the land.

In addition to recording the language lessons, Juneby worked with his own community and with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation in Dawson City to revitalize his language. He faithfully attended Hän literacy sessions at the Yukon Native Language Centre and in Dawson City.

About the Hän language

Hän is an Athabascan language spoken in the Alaska village of Eagle and in the Yukon Territory at Dawson City. A writing system was established in the 1970s, and considerable documentation has been carried out at the Alaska Native Language Center as well as at the

Yukon Native Language Centre. Hän is one of 47 languages in the Athabaskan language family, which is part of the larger Na-Dené family, and is most closely related to Gwich’in and Upper Tanana. The name of the language is derived from the name of the people, “Hän Hwëch’in,” which in the language means “people who live along the (Yukon) river.”

About Doyon Languages Online

Doyon Languages Online is a partnership between Doyon Foundation and 7000 Languages, a nonprofit that supports endangered language learning through software donated by Transparent Language.

The project is creating introductory online lessons for nine of the 10 of the endangered Doyon region languages: Holikachuk, Denaakk’e (Koyukon), Benhti Kenaga’ (Lower Tanana), Hän, Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in), Deg Xinag, Denak’i (Upper Kuskokwim), Nee’anděg’ (Tanacross) and Née’aaneegn’ (Upper Tanana). Additional goals include working with teachers in the Doyon region school districts to incorporate these courses into their lessons, field testing course utilization and effectiveness, and developing guides for dialects to develop their own courses.

Doyon Languages Online is funded by a three-year grant from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA), awarded in 2016, and an additional three-year grant from the Alaska Native Education Program (ANEP), awarded in 2017.

For more information

For more information on the Hän language lessons and the Doyon Languages Online project, please visit www.doyonfoundation.com or contact 907.459.2048 or foundation@doyon.com.