Language Revitalization


Strong roots connect us to our well-being”

Jennifer with Great Aunt Elizabeth Fleagle

Jennifer with her great-aunt, Dr. Elizabeth Fleagle

Originally from the Interior community of Allakaket on the Koyukuk River, Jennifer Adams is the daughter of the late Bob Maguire of Chelan, Washington, and the late Cora (Moses) Maguire of Allakaket. Jennifer’s maternal grandparents are Johnson Bergman Moses of Allakaket and the late Bertha (Nictune) Moses of Alatna. Other family include Jennifer’s great-aunt, Dr. Elizabeth Fleagle, a sister of Bertha Moses.

Jennifer is director of the Juneau-based Small Business Development Center, a unit within the Alaska Small Business Development Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. A Doyon Foundation scholarship recipient, Jennifer graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a bachelor’s degree in 2004 and a master’s of business administration in 2013. Her languages are Denaakk’e, spoken by Koyukon Alaska Native people, and Inupiaq, spoken by Inupiaq Alaska Native people.

Jennifer was a child when her father began introducing her to Inupiaq and Koyukon Athabascan. A non-Native teacher who came to Alaska straight out of college to teach at rural schools, Bob eventually arrived at Allakaket and met Cora, Jennifer’s mother.

Bob immersed himself in Koyukon and Athabascan cultures and in the lifestyles of Allakaket and Alatna. From his father-in-law, Johnson Moses, Bob learned Koyukon Athabascan vocabulary; his mother-in-law, Bertha Nictune Moses, taught him Inupiaq words. Jennifer grew up hearing her father readily incorporate both languages in everyday life.

“He’d say, ‘Wipe your nuvuk,’ (‘boogers,’ in Inupiaq) or ‘You have a big chaga,’ (‘stomach,’ in Koyukon Athabascan),” Jennifer says. And while Episcopal missionaries arriving in the early 1900s taught Jennifer’s parents not to speak their languages – and to not pass them on to their children – Jennifer’s mother went on to learn to speak Koyukon Athabascan as adult after studying at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Jennifer was enrolled in a fifth-grade bilingual Inupiaq class at Shugnak while her mother completed student teaching at a local school.

Jennifer believes that reconnecting Indigenous people to their culture and languages promotes a healthy society. And though her home in Juneau is far from people who speak her Native languages, Jennifer retains her connection by taking part in programs, including the He ‘ lelo Ola Hilo Field Study Conference in Hilo, Hawaii, in 2017.

“The conference was vital to learning about language immersion programs,” she says. Knowledge gained there led her to write a $1.6 million grant awarded to the Fairbanks Native Association for a Koyukon Athabascan classroom immersion program for preschoolers.

Her plans include continuing to research and write grants and enrolling in language courses in Inupiaq and Koyukon Athabascan. She also serves on Doyon Foundation’s language revitalization committee and was elected to the Foundation board of directors in November 2019.

“I’d like to thank Doyon Foundation and any other organizations that are instrumental in language learning programs,” she says. She knows from her own childhood that one of the best ways to acquire language is to use it in everyday settings.

“Language connects me to my culture,” Jennifer says. “It’s important to learn and preserve language knowledge so we have strong roots that connect us to our well-being.”

About Doyon Languages Online

Through the Doyon Language Online project, Doyon Foundation is developing introductory online lessons for 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 project officially launched in summer 2019 with the first four courses, now available for free to all interested learners.

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.

As Doyon Foundation continues to grow our language revitalization efforts in the Doyon region, we believe it is important to recognize people who are committed to learning and perpetuating their ancestral language. We are pleased to share some of these “language champion” profiles with you.

If you know a language champion, please nominate him or her by contacting our language program director at foundation@doyon.com. Language champions may also complete our profile questionnaire here. You may learn more about our language revitalization program on our website, or sign up to access the free Doyon Languages Online courses here.

Isaac-Sandi-photo

The late Isaac and Sandi Juneby

Today we remember Sandra “Sandi” Leider Juneby, 1936 – 2019. We here at Doyon Foundation send our thoughts and prayers to the family of Sandi Juneby on her recent passing.

Sandi holds a special place in the hearts of all of us at the Foundation, not only for her unflagging commitment to education, but also for granting us her blessing to share her late husband Isaac Juneby’s Hän language lessons.

When the lessons were published in May 2019, we paid her a visit to give her a demonstration of the online lessons. It was incredible to witness her joy when she heard his voice fill the room. Sandi greatly desired that the Hän language continue to be passed on, and she was overjoyed that young learners would be able to access Isaac’s lessons online.

We will always remember her cheerful spirit; she did indeed “glow with the gold of sunshine.”

We are pleased to share our December 2019 Native words of the month in the Deg Xinag language. This month, we present a very special audio clip featuring translations with speakers George Demientieff Holly, Jr. and LaVerne Demientieff, and music by Clayton Ticknor.

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Take a listen, and follow along with these written translations:

Niłdridr = fish fence

Niłdridr vaxa nonhałts’ey. = Fish fence, with it they fence the river.

Yixudz tr’it’itth. = Together we’re strong.

Dina vas axa tr’ezhrenh. = With our food we’re healthy.

Yidong dong xit’sin’ nonxixititlts’et. = Since long, long time ago they’ve made it many times on the river.

For more translations, view our Native word of the month archives on the Foundation website.

We also invite you to access free online language-learning lessons by signing up for Doyon Languages Online! We currently have lessons available for HolikachukDenaakk’eBenhti Kenaga’ and Gwich’in, as well as a special set of Hän lessons based on the work of the late Isaac Juneby. All interested learners may sign up and access the courses at no charge – sign up today!

Oline (far left), her granddaughter Stephanie in the middle, and Teresa Hanson

Oline (far left) with her granddaughter, Stephanie (middle), and Teresa Hanson

Born in the Athabascan community of Nikolai, Oline Petruska is a Doyon Foundation language champion committed to speaking and writing Dinak’i, the language of Alaska Native people of the upper Kuskokwim River. Oline is a daughter of Miska and Anna Alexia, and a granddaughter of Alex and Lena Alexia, all of Nikolai.

From 1961 to 1963, Oline attended Mount Edgecumbe High School, the Sitka-based residential school attracting primarily Alaska Native students from around the state. In 1969, she joined VISTA, the Kennedy-era national service program aimed at alleviating poverty, and served as a preschool and adult basic education teacher in Nikolai.

Oline’s family includes her daughter, Shirley, of Nikolai; brother, Mike, of Anchorage; and granddaughter, Stephanie, of Nikolai. All are studying Dinak’i through Doyon Foundation’s Doyon Languages Online project, which offers free access to online courses in Alaska Native languages spoken throughout the Doyon region. Doyon Foundation officially launched Doyon Languages Online in summer 2019 with the release of the first four courses in Gwich’inDenaakk’eBenhti Kenaga’ and Holikachuk.

A visitor dropping by is likely to find Oline busy with her language lessons, turning Dinak’i written words into sentences describing the world around her. “I know the language,” she says, “but I want to learn to write it, so that kids in the future will have something to learn by. I’ve always had a desire to see people learn and get ahead.”

Motivating her own learning are childhood memories of her grandmother and mother, making their way in a world where sled dog teams ran the mail trail through Nikolai and her mother worked at a local roadhouse. “It brings back memories of mom and grandma, talking a long time ago,” Oline says of her own efforts to speak and write the Dinak’i language.

As a little girl attending school in Nikolai, Oline recalls being punished for speaking her language. “I had no interest in writing or speaking (Dinak’i) until just about a year ago. It just takes me to make up my mind to do something,” she says with a laugh. She enrolled in lessons through Doyon Foundation and has been working steadily with the goal of writing in Dinak’i.

“I’m constantly writing words down – words that I think are cool – and after a while I’ll write a sentence. It’s been exciting to learn,” she says. A recent afternoon had Oline observing the changing seasons: In Dinak’i she wrote, It’s windy and the leaves are falling. 

Consulting a dictionary helps. So does persistence. Oline says that compared with English, written words in Dinak’i can seem very long. Even an everyday word like “sewing” can send Oline to the dictionary to check her translation. “I still have trouble figuring out how to write some words,” she says. “I enjoy the challenge.”

A chance to work with schoolchildren last year convinced her that language revitalization efforts belong in the elementary-grade classrooms. She recalls two children – a fourth grader and fifth grader – so ready to learn that they acquired Dinak’i surprisingly fast. “More people will take the language once it gets into the classrooms, and especially with the young ones,” Oline says. “That’s my hope.”

Doyon Language Online develops introductory online lessons for 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).

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.

As Doyon Foundation continues to grow our language revitalization efforts in the Doyon region, we believe it is important to recognize people who are committed to learning and perpetuating their ancestral language. We are pleased to share some of these “language champion” profiles with you.

If you know a language champion, please nominate him or her by contacting our language program director at foundation@doyon.com. Language champions may also complete our profile questionnaire here. You may learn more about our language revitalization program on our website, or sign up to access the free Doyon Languages Online courses here.

IMG_1161 small

Doyon Foundation sends heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of Elder Sarah Silas of Minto.

Sarah dedicated herself to passing on her Benhti Kokhut’ana Kenaga’ language and culture, and has been a true inspiration for the mission of Doyon Foundation. Sarah often attended our language gatherings, and after hearing a circle of participants introduce themselves in their languages she said, “It is so beautiful hearing you all speaking your language; it is like hearing birds chirping and singing their songs.”

We were ever so humbled that day when Sarah shared her gratitude with our group. She looked at everyone gathered and said, “Thank you for putting our words back in our mouths.”

We at Doyon Foundation are forever grateful for Sarah’s many contributions, and will strive to keep her legacy alive for this and future generations.

Schoolhouse_in_Alaska_Native_village_on_bank_of_Innoko_River,_Alaska,_September_1914_(AL+CA_3998)

Photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

We are pleased to share our November 2019 Native words of the month in Holikachuk. This month, we feature a short conversation between Tristan Madros and Mary Deacon.

Tristan: Sits’ida’onh dant’anh? (What are you doing my friend?)

 

Mary: Gooqa yix ts’i ghisoł. (I’m walking to the store.)

 

Tristan: Koon ninagi’eł. (See you later.)

 

For more translations, view our Native word of the month archives on the Foundation website.

We also invite you to access free online language-learning lessons by signing up for Doyon Languages Online! We currently have lessons available for HolikachukDenaakk’eBenhti Kenaga’ and Gwich’in, as well as a special set of Hän lessons based on the work of the late Isaac Juneby. All interested learners may sign up and access the courses at no charge – sign up today!

 

126_DLO Language Champion Promotion_FB-INI’m so proud of Doyon Foundation for its work with our languages”

Paul Mountain is the son of Josephine Rita (Nickoli) and Simeon Charley Mountain Senior. Paul’s maternal grandparents are Maria Catherine (K’elestemets) and Paul (Naakk’oos) Nickoli. His paternal grandparents are Vivian (Sipary) Peter and Cosmas Mountain. Cosmas’ parents are Charley and Mary Mountain.

Paul’s Alaska Native language is Denaakkenaage’, spoken by Koyukon Athabascan people of Nulato and Kaltag. He graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1991, and holds a bachelor’s degree in linguistics with a minor in Alaska Native languages. He is a past recipient of Doyon Foundation scholarships.

“I have always been intrigued by the use of language to communicate,” says Paul, who is tribal administrator for the Nulato Tribal Council.

Paul’s earliest memories include time spent with his grandmother, Maria Nikoli, who spoke only Koyukon Athabascan and helped him gain a good foundation for understanding the language. His mother, uncles and aunts were instrumental in teaching the language.

“The Koyukon language is so interesting,” Paul says. “There are so many different ways to express yourself without saying too much.” For instance, when someone says “emaa,” the word may translate as “ouch” or “it hurts.” The same word may be used today as an idiom, meaning “I feel bum.” For health care providers who may be unfamiliar with Koyukon, its flexibility can be frustrating, Paul says.

As in other languages, some Koyukon words fall out of use. “Songs were made in the past using words even the fluent speakers sometimes don’t understand fully. There’s a certain amount of poetic license on the part of the songmaker,” Paul says.

Connecting words to form sentences was an important step in advancing his fluency. “I think a lot of people know lots of words and what they mean, but what they lack is how to form complete sentences. Repetition was a really good way to learn,” he says.

To remain active in language learning, Paul takes part in a Native singing and dance group based in Nulato. The dance group is sponsored by Nulato Tribal Council in partnership with Andrew K. Demoski School. In his role as tribal administrator, Paul is supportive of a Nulato Tribal Council project to re-translate workbooks into the Lower Koyukon dialect. But as Native language speakers are being lost to old age, he knows that among the biggest challenges to language learning is a lack of people available to speak with and learn from.

“It’s really difficult,” he says. “I’m so proud of Doyon Foundation for its work with our languages.”

Paul plans to continue working with the Native dance group, which includes members as young as 8 years old, to develop their understanding of the meaning behind songs. “It’s so entertaining to help them,” he says. “I’d also like to help as they grow older and learn to make songs themselves.”

About Doyon Languages Online

Through the Doyon Language Online project, Doyon Foundation is developing introductory online lessons for 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 project officially launched in summer 2019 with the first four courses, now available for free to all interested learners.

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.

About Language Champions

As Doyon Foundation continues to grow our language revitalization efforts in the Doyon region, we believe it is important to recognize people who are committed to learning and perpetuating their ancestral language. We are pleased to share some of these “language champion” profiles with you.

If you know a language champion, please nominate him or her by contacting our language program director at haytona@doyon.com. Language champions may also complete our profile questionnaire here. You may learn more about our language revitalization program on our website, or sign up to access the free Doyon Languages Online courses here.

 

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