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Gwich’in course now available for free to all interested learners

Doyon Foundation released the second course in its Doyon Languages Online project today: Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa, or Gwich’in, one of the 10 endangered languages of the Doyon region. The Gwich’in course joins the previously released Benhti Kenaga’ course. Both online courses are now available at no charge to all interested language learners through the Doyon Foundation website.


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Gwich’in is a Dene Athabascan language spoken in the northeastern Alaska villages of Fort Yukon (Gwichyaa Zhee), Arctic Village (Vashrąįį K’ǫǫ), Venetie (Vįįhtąįį), Chalkyitsik (Jałgiitsik), Circle (Danzhit Haiinląįį), Birch Creek (Deenduu), and Beaver (Tseeduu), as well as Old Crow (Vuntut) in the Yukon Territory and Fort McPherson (Teetł’it Zheh), Aklavik, Tsiigehtchic, and Inuvik in Northwest Territories. The Gwich’in population is about 3,000, and of that number about 250 in Alaska and 300 in Canada are speakers of the language.

The declining number of speakers, and the desire to preserve and pass along the Native languages of the Doyon region to future generations is the driving force behind Doyon Foundation’s Doyon Languages Online project. The project is creating introductory online lessons for nine of the 10 endangered Doyon region languages: Holikachuk, Denaakk’e (Koyukon), Benhti Kenaga’ (Lower Tanana), Hän, Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in), Deg Xinag, Dinak’i (Upper Kuskokwim), Nee’anděg’ (Tanacross) and Née’aaneegn’ (Upper Tanana). The Foundation plans to release two additional courses over the next month.

Earlier this month, Doyon Foundation officially launched Doyon Languages Online with the release of the Benhti Kenaga’ course. This spring, the Foundation gave a preview of Doyon Languages Online with the release of a special set of Hän language lessons based on the work of the late Isaac Juneby, an Alaska Native leader, respected Elder and language revitalization pioneer.

The Doyon Languages Online launch coincides with the International Year of Indigenous Languages, which Doyon Foundation is a partner organization of.  In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. At the time, it was estimated that 40 percent of the 6,700 languages spoken around the world were in danger of disappearing.

“After years of dedicated efforts, we are so pleased to share this language revitalization work with all interested learners,” said Doris Miller, the Foundation’s executive director. “It is even more special to launch Doyon Languages Online in conjunction with the International Year of Indigenous Languages.”

Like the other Doyon Languages Online courses, the Gwich’in course was developed by a team of content creators, Elders and a linguistics consultant, with the support of Foundation staff. The Gwich’in content creation team was one of the first teams to be involved with Doyon Languages Online.

“As experienced teachers and curriculum developers, the members brought a lot of experience and knowledge into the design of their course. We would often talk about ‘How would a grandma talk to her grandson? And what would he say back?’ All of the members of this team are speakers, and each is passionate about documenting and passing on their culture and language,” said Allan Hayton, director of the Foundation’s language revitalization program.

The Foundation extends a special thank you to the Gwich’in content creation team, including Kenneth Frank, Caroline Tritt-Frank, John T. Ritter and Irene Roberts; as well as Doyon, Limited; the Yukon Native Language Center; the Alaska Native Language Center and Alaska Native Language Archive; Hishinlai’ Peter; and the people who worked with the Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa language from the 1970s to today. Their work makes this course possible.

The finished Gwich’in course includes 10 units, each with five lessons of content, reviews and unit assessments, as well as nine conversational videos with subtitles in English and Gwich’in, and 22 culture and grammar notes.

Students interested in supplementing their learning resources are encouraged to consider the college-level beginning Athabascan – Gwich’in course taught by Hishinlai’ Peter at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. There are also a number of reading materials, such as stories and a junior dictionary, published by the Alaska Native Language Center or available in the Alaska Native Language Archive.

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. It 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 on the Gwich’in course and the Doyon Languages Online project, please visit www.doyonfoundation.com or contact 907.459.2048 or foundation@doyon.com. For assistance signing up for or using Doyon Languages Online, view the instructional video series on YouTube.

ANA Language Revitalization Grant #: 90NL0626. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this publication, and all others associated with the Doyon Languages Online project, do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Administration for Children and Families, or the Administration for Native Americans.