Language Revitalization


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 not 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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We are excited to share this short comic, written in Gwich’in and illustrated by our summer intern, Claire Ketzler! This book follows a Gwich’in story, Shihtthoo Tr’ik, The Young Brown Bear Woman.

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Translation:
Box 1: There was once a young brown bear woman.
Box 2: She was very, very beautiful.
Box 3: Her father loved her.
Box 4: He did not allow her out alone.

page 3

Translation:
Box 1: Despite this, she left one day for water.
Box 2: When she reached water, she met raven.
Box 3: Raven was always playing tricks.
Box 4: Here! Drink this water I am holding!

page 4

Translation:
Box 1: She decided to drink the water.
Box 2: She drank something black and small in the water.
Box 3: That night she went back home, she fell ill.

page 5

Translation:
Box 1: She was pregnant, about to give birth.
Box 2: She gave birth. It was a beautiful baby boy.

page 6

Translation:
Box 1: The little boy grew up fast.
Box 2: The boy liked the moon that hung up on the wall.
Box 3: It lit up the house but kept the world in darkness.

page 7

Translation:
Box 1: The son took the moon from its place.
Box 2: His grandfather said,
Box 3: “Don’t take the moon away from the house.”
Box 4: “Stay close by.”

page 8

Translation:
Box 1: The boy didn’t mind his grandfather.
Box 2: He took the moon outside to play with it.
Box 3: Raven was sitting high in a tree watching.

page 9

Translation:
Box 1: Raven swooped in.
Box 2: And took the moon.
Box 3: He threw it high into the sky.

page 10

Translation:
Box 1: The moon is there to this day.

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View a video of the full story on our YouTube channel!

Want to learn Gwich’in, or other languages of the Doyon region? Sign up for the Doyon Languages Online course – free and available to all interested language learners!

Winter cabin by Jacob Yule

Photo courtesy of Jacob Yule

We are pleased to share our October 2019 Native words of the month in Denaakk’e. This month, we feature a short conversation between two sisters: Beverly Kokrine and Susan Paskvan.

Beverly: Sodaa, do’eent’aa? (My older sister, how are you?)

Susan: Sedaats, eszoonh. (My younger sister, I’m fine.)

Beverly: Hedoneehoyh. (Come inside.)

Susan: Baasee’ sedaadzaa. (Thank you my younger sister.)

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!

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Born and raised in Nikolai, the upper Kuskokwim Athabascan community on the south fork of the Kuskokwim River, Daniel Esai is a language learner, teacher and speaker of Dinak’i. His parents are Dora Esai and the late Phillip Esai, both of Nikolai. His family includes sisters Martha Runkle and Jacqueline Esai, both of Nikolai, and several nieces and nephews.

Daniel’s paternal grandparents are Gleman Esai of the Nikolai area and Martha Alexie of the area surrounding Stony River, Sleetmute and Lime Village. Daniel’s maternal grandparents are Golgomy and Alexandria Dennis, both of the Nikolai area.

Daniel, 56, pursued vocational education and went on to work as a roughneck and roustabout for Doyon Drilling. His goals include rejoining Doyon Drilling and taking part soon in the Doyon Leadership Training program for shareholders seeking to develop leadership skills. He’s eager for computer training for work readiness and self-sufficiency. Daniel enjoys hunting and fishing to support his family, while caring for his elderly mother.

“I learned to speak my language from parents and my Grandma Alexandria,” Daniel recalls.

Growing-up years found him gravitating to the Elders, listening to them speak their language and absorbing their wisdom. “I miss the days when I used to listen to my Aunt Katherine Deaphon, when we used to laugh and speak our language a lot,” Daniel says. “I learned a lot from everyone.”

As he writes on his Facebook page, Daniel believes in family, sharing what we’re given and being kind — values he traces to following in the ways of Elders. “I was always hanging around the old people – I don’t know why that is, but I believe it taught me to be nice to others and that has kept me alive.”

He tells the story of an old blind man who lived among the people of Nikolai and was tormented by children who poked the man with sticks before running away. “I would fight with the ones who picked on the blind man,” Daniel says, adding that kindness and helping the vulnerable have kept him alive.

“My language means the whole thing to me,” he says. “It will point me in which direction to go when I die.” He recalls instructions handed down through the generations: “When I pass away, I’ll be asked what my clan is and I will answer in Dinak’i, Dichinanek Hwtana clan.”

Daniel serves on Doyon Foundation’s advisory committee for the Dinak’i (Upper Kuskokwim) language, as part of the Foundation’s Doyon Languages Online project. Doyon Language Online is developing introductory online lessons for the Alaska Native languages of the Doyon region, including Benhti Kokhut’ana Kenaga’ (Lower Tanana), Deg Xinag, Denaakk’e (Koyukon), Dihthaad Xt’een Iin Aanděeg’ (Tanacross), Dinak’i (Upper Kuskokwim), Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in), Hän, Holikachuk, and Nee’aanèegn’ (Upper Tanana). The Foundation launched the first four online language-learning courses in summer 2019, and courses are now available for free to all interested learners through the Doyon Foundation website.

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. The project is a partnership with 7000 Languages, a nonprofit that supports endangered language learning through software donated by Transparent Language.

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.

We are pleased to present our September 2019 Native words of the month in Holikachuk. Thank you to our speakers, Elizabeth Keating and Mary Deacon.

Windy = xidets’iyh

Xidets’iyh he’? = Is it windy?

 

Yoonedz xidets’iyh. = There’s a North wind coming down.

 

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!

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If you are passionate about the revitalization of Native languages, we have an exciting opportunity: our open Doyon Languages Online project manager position. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. 

We are now seeking applications from qualified applicants for this position, which will be responsible for the coordination and completion of the Doyon Languages Online project. This is an incredibly exciting time for the project, which we launched earlier this summer with the roll-out of the first four online language-learning courses in Holikachuk, Gwich’inDenaakk’e and Benhti Kenaga’.

Our Doyon Languages Online project manager handles a variety of tasks, including representing the project at off-site cultural and language related events, developing teacher training materials and hosting training sessions, conducting outreach, providing support for users of the online lessons, and satisfying grant reporting requirements.

We’re looking for candidates preferably with a master’s degree; experience in language teaching, teacher training, or education planning; strong interpersonal skills; and familiarity with Athabascan languages, the Doyon region, Alaska classrooms, and general education requirements of the k-12 system.

Our Doyon Languages Online project manager works with our language revitalization team in our office in Fairbanks. This is a full-time position with funding secured through September 30, 2020, although future grant opportunities may be secured to extend the position.

Interested applicants are encouraged to review the job description and requirements, and apply online at www.doyon.com.

 

Friday September 6 at 6:30 pm at Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center – Last of the #IYIL speaker events: Irene Arnold and Siri Tuttle will talk about self-expression in Tanacross!

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