Here are your November Native Words of the Month in Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in) and Dihthaad Xt’een Iin Aanděeg’ (Tanacross)! Hai’ and Tsin’ee to our translators, Allan Hayton and Irene Solomon Arnold.

Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in)

Gwichin November photo by Richard Mueller

Photo by Richard Mueller

November = Divii Zhrii

Deegii’in? = What are they doing?

Oodee shahan vizheh shih leii vikeech’agahch’yaa. = They are cooking lots of food at my mom’s house.

Listen to an audio recording of the translation: 

Dihthaad Xt’een Iin Aanděeg’ (Tanacross)

Tanacross Nov photo

November = Demee Sǎa’, “Sheep Month”

Xníik’áatth = It became cold.

Nah’ôg xníik’áatth. = It turned cold outside.

Listen to an audio recording of the translation: 

 

Online Lessons to be Created for Nine Indigenous Languages of Doyon Region

 

Doyon Foundation has received a three-year, $977,423 grant from the U.S. Department of Education – Alaska Native Educational Program to expand its language revitalization efforts through the Doyon Languages Online II project.

Group of language learners participate in an activity

Holy Cross Deg Xinag Language Gathering

Through the project, the Foundation will increase the number of people who speak Nee’anděg’ (Tanacross), Née’aaneegn’ (Upper Tanana), Deg Xinag and Denak’i (Upper Kuskokwim) by creating more than 220 online language-learning lessons, training teachers in the use of the technology through partnerships with the Alaska Gateway and Iditarod school districts, and field testing the lessons with students.

The funding will allow the Foundation to build on the progress of the existing Doyon Languages Online project, which is already in the process of developing online language-learning lessons for five of the Doyon region languages: Holikachuk, Denaakk’e (Koyukon), Benhti Kenaga’ (Lower Tanana), Hän, and Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in).

“With this new grant, we will be able to produce online learning opportunities for nine of the 10 indigenous languages of the Doyon region,” said Doris Miller, executive director of Doyon Foundation. The nine languages targeted in the two Doyon Languages Online projects currently have little or no online educational materials for those wanting to learn.

Doyon Languages Online is a project of the Foundation’s language revitalization program, and is a partnership with 7000 Languages, a nonprofit that supports endangered language learning partially through software donated by Transparent Language. The Foundation first partnered with 7000 Languages in 2014 to create and provide learning content for the languages of the Doyon region in an accessible, engaging and proven online environment.

Two women at table reviewing Native language learning documents

Northway Where Are Your Keys Workshop

The 10 indigenous languages of the Doyon region represent half of the 20 total Alaska Native languages, which were recently made official languages of the state of Alaska. The 10 Doyon region languages are all severely to critically endangered, and are not being passed on to younger generations quickly enough to ensure their survival.

“Every year we are losing more of our Elders and first language speakers,” said Allan Hayton, director of the Foundation’s language revitalization program. “Today there are no villages in the Doyon region where children are learning their ancestral language as their first language.”

“But with this grant funding, combined with the support of our partners, the expertise of our Elders and teachers, and the interest of our people, there is real hope that we will pass on our languages to the next generations,” he said.

Doyon Foundation is the private foundation established in 1989 by Doyon, Limited to provide educational, career and cultural opportunities to enhance the identity and quality of life for Doyon shareholders. The Foundation, with support from Doyon, Limited, created the language revitalization program in 2012 to ensure the cultures and languages of the Doyon region are taught, documented and easily accessible.

For more information on Doyon Foundation and its language revitalization program and Doyon Languages Online project, visit www.doyonfoundation.com or contact Doris Miller, executive director, or Allan Hayton, language revitalization program director, at foundation@doyon.com or 907.459.2048.

A conversation with Irene Solomon Arnold and Allan Hayton

IMAG2016This language champion profile features an interview with Irene Solomon Arnold (IA) and Doyon Foundation’s Language Revitalization Program Director Allan Hayton (AH).

Irene was born and raised in Tanacross, Alaska. Her mother’s side of the family is from Diihthaad. Her name was Stella Luke Solomon. Her father’s side of the family was from Saages Cheeg” (Ketchumstock). His name was Silas Solomon. Her maternal grandparents were Harry and Jennie Luke. Her paternal grandparents were Peter and Annie Solomon.

In 1992 Irene began teaching the Tanacross language in Tok, Alaska, for the Alaska Gateway School District. She completed an Associate of Applied Science in Native Language Education with the Yukon Native Language Centre at Yukon College in Whitehorse, in conjunction with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She has been a lifelong advocate for language and cultural education for younger generations.

Tanacross is the ancestral language of the Mansfield-Ketchumstuk and Healy Lake-Joseph Village bands of Athabascan people, whose homelands extend from the Goodpaster River to the west, the Alaska Range to the south, the Fortymile and Tok Rivers to the east, and the Yukon Uplands to the north. The language is spoken in the villages of Tanacross, Dot Lake and Healy Lake and is one of nine endangered Athabascan Dene languages in the Doyon region. Efforts are underway to continue speaking, teaching and learning the language.

AH: Thank you for agreeing to be a part of Foundation’s Language Champion series. This series highlights people across Doyon region and their work in language revitalization. Doyon region has 10 languages. We are one of the only ANCSA corporations with this many languages, but I think it’s a blessing. Really, they are like riches right?

IA: Right.

AH: Riches of the land, and of the people.

IA: And we are fortunate enough to have a fluent speaker or speakers in each of these languages. That is so good to see because when I got started in the 80s, we had no idea it was going to come to this.

AH: I feel the same. When I was growing up, I didn’t expect in my own lifetime that the Gwich’in language might not continue.

IA: When I began I didn’t think I was going into the language field. When the boarding schools made me quit speaking our language, I just eradicated it from my mind.

I came back in ’66, and I really began to take interest. I wanted to know what all the grandmas and grandpas were saying. My grandmother and all of them were speaking this rapid language. I would just be blown away. I realized they’re telling interesting stories. I didn’t expect to learn it. I just wanted to hear the stories.

So there began my teaching and I didn’t know it. Grandma would say words and she would look at me, and I know then I am supposed to repeat it. I had a southern accent, a really deep Georgia accent, so that’s what made them laugh more. Except for my dad and uncle Andrew Isaac, and grandma. They didn’t laugh. They probably did, but they wouldn’t let me see it.

It went on for years. I’d ask grandma, “What they say? What they say?” And then one day, she said, I asked her, “What was that?” She said, “I can’t tell you, you have to learn it.”

In my mind I already knew how to say the words because subconsciously I was paying attention. When it was time for me to pronounce the words, it was already there. Then the more I worked at it, and listened to tapes from those old stories, and then languages and then the memory came back slowly, and the correct way to pronounce words, until finally I could sit and talk with grandma and them.

If I said something wrong, my grandma would repeat it. She wouldn’t say, “Not that way,” she would simply repeat it. Without prior instruction, she knew how to teach language. 

Listen to audio clip of Irene’s response:

AH: That’s good that you had a teacher like that.

IA: Yes, she had patience.

AH: What was that experience like when the language started coming back to you?

IA: It was like a dream. I would listen to tapes of the old folks talking, and memories would come back of where I was when I heard that story. I started comparing the different ways people spoke the language. My grandmother would tell me old words, and she made me aware that there are different dialects.

I got interested in the meaning of different words. When we were doing the Tanacross Learners’ Dictionary (Dihthaad Xt’een Aandeg’  The Mansfield People’s Language, which Irene authored with Gary Holton and Richard Thoman), I would take other dictionaries like Gwich’in and I’d find the word. I would compare them and come up with the correct word for our language.

When I started, I was working as a youth counselor, and they asked me if I would teach our language. I told them, “I don’t know how to teach.” They said, “Yes you do, you know how to counsel and do talking circle, do it that way.” And so that’s where it started, my language work.

I went to Tok UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) campus, and asked if there were any courses that would teach me how to be a language teacher. Because I knew there had to be something else. My students could not advance after a certain point. Eventually I found the Native language teaching at Yukon College. Avis Northway, too, she is the first recipient of the Native language certificate from Yukon College. I would use Avis a lot in my language class. And she became almost fluent in Tanacross language, and me in her language.

Together we learned you need to have one room where you dedicate it to your language class, because you put all this on your wall. All different pictures of different seasons. Just basic stuff, just put it up there, let them see it every day.

We realized children are more visual learners. We would take them outdoors, even when it’s cold, we’d take them outdoors and show them what we’re talking about. So I stayed with Tok School for three years but there was no support.

AH: When you came back in 1966 and began to hear the language again, re-familiarizing your tongue and beginning to speak, do you feel like you began to understand the way of life and belief more?

IA: Yes. In the language, I feel more as an elder, I feel more grounded, more part of a unique system now that I can think in our language. That was a breakthrough, when you start thinking in your language. That opened up a whole new world.

AH: There is research that shows children benefit from having their language in terms of their wellbeing, and health. It’s a support for all learning, to have that grounding in the language.

IA: Especially nowadays the things they are learning on TV has nothing to do with village life. And yet our young people are so involved with that television and the technological world now. It’s so different from our way of life. No wonder they’re searching, and they don’t even know they’re searching.

I think our language really needs to be in the school. At this point in time it should be well established in our school, and it’s not. I don’t know what it is, or why it’s not, because we have all the material.

So that’s my dream for our language is to get it in the school, established in the local school. And if it’s taught like that on a daily basis, it will be a big success in our schools.

Listen to audio clip of Irene’s response:

AH: Do you have a chance in your daily life to talk in your language?

IA: No, Tanacross has, let’s see, they have, there’s Mildred, fluent speakers, Nellie Probert, Mildred Jonathan, probably Jerry Isaac, probably half dozen people who can speak fluently. But there’s others too who speak and understand but they’re not fluent.

AH: It’s that way for Gwich’in too. There are younger people that can understand it, but they respond in English.

IA: You have more speakers than any language, it seems like. Because everywhere you see, you meet a Gwich’in, they speak to each other in their language.

AH: It is changing. I’m 48 now, and not getting younger.

IA: My goodness, I knew you when you were just that tall, and your mom. She used to do so much with you guys, and took you to a lot of places.

AH: Yeah, I miss her all the time.

IA: She always spoke your language with you.

AH: When I was starting to teach at the university, I would call her and ask “Amaa, jii nats’a’ts’a’ deegwiheenjyaa?”, “How do we say this?” I think about our departed loved ones, now they’re gone but I think they’re somewhere sharing stories again and reunited.

IA: Sitting by a river somewhere.

For a complete audio or written transcript of this interview, please contact the Foundation at foundation@doyon.com or 907.459.2048.

As Doyon Foundation continues to grow our language revitalization efforts in the Doyon region, we are noticing a group of people who are committed and dedicating their own time 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.

Supported by Doyon Foundation, Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh (“Our Language Nest”) is an immersion program that teaches children to become fluent speakers of Gwich’in while helping preserve one of the world’s most threatened Indigenous languages.

Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh meets Saturdays at various sites in and around Fairbanks so that parents and children may speak Gwich’in, sing songs, share lessons and create learning activities. Virtually all activities are in Gwich’in, and the activity is free of charge.

“The group is open to everyone, but especially parents with young children,” says Allan Hayton, the Foundation’s language revitalization program director. “The goal is to teach Gwich’in to children by talking to them in the language.”

Gatherings typically attract a half-dozen or so parents and as many as 10 children. There is no fee to attend and parents also rely on the group to learn Gwich’in.

A “no-English” policy is typical of language nest immersion programs in Alaska and throughout the world. Adopting the metaphor of a nest as a safe place to learn, Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh is an early childhood education project that brings together Elders who are fluent speakers and parents and children, who typically speak English only.

Hayton began working with parents in 2015 to start Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh; today he’s among the group’s leaders, which includes parents and other community members. Partners include University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Rural Student Services and Denakkanaaga, the Fairbanks-based nonprofit organization for Native Elders. Over the years, the group has met outdoors, at parents’ homes, at Denakkanaaga and the UAF campus.

“No two Language Nest meetings are the same,” says Charlene Stern, a mother who has been involved since the group’s very first meeting. By the time her son was born, Charlene says she realized she wanted him to hear Gwich’in daily, at home. Charlene’s first language is English; her mother and siblings are fluent Gwich’in speakers.

Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh differs from teaching that introduces vocabulary in a new language by having students memorize isolated words or phrases. Some meetings involve getting together to share a meal and practice Gwich’in table phrases. Other gatherings focus on games and songs or venturing outdoors. This in-context approach teaches Gwich’in by offering everyday, appealing situations that “feed” the language into ears of young children. Two primary teachers who are fluent speakers are on hand at Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh gatherings. Parents who are second-language learners also are welcome to lead activities and lessons.

Worldwide language nest projects trace their start to 1982 and successful efforts to revive the Maori language in New Zealand. In Alaska, the nine ancestral languages of the Doyon region were the first languages spoken by the people as recently as 100 years ago. Revitalization programs like Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh can add to the number of fluent speakers and lessen the risk that the language will be lost.

“For me, one of the most important things about the Language Nest is that it creates a space where our children positively engage with our culture and language,” Charlene says. Alaska Native children typically are a minority in urban public schools, and she says Native children often experience discrimination that fosters feelings of inferiority. “Language Nest helps equip our children with stronger identities so that they become more resilient individuals and tribal members.”

Language nests such as Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh adhere to evidence-based strategies in early childhood education. For instance, research shows that up to about age 7, children acquire a second language – or third or fourth – as naturally as they learn a first language.

Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh is one of several Foundation-supported programs to revitalize Indigenous languages in the Doyon region. Efforts include the Native Word of the Month and Doyon Languages Online, the grant-funded project that is developing online lessons for five of the Doyon languages: Holikachuk, Denaakk’e, Benhti Kenaga’, Hän and Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa. Plans eventually call for online lessons in all Doyon region languages.

Charlene is among the Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh parents from families who encouraged English as a step to success in the Western world. “Today we know that speaking more than one language carries many benefits,” she says. “And we know that culture and language revitalization is critical to personal identity and collective well-being.”

She’s looking forward to a time when more families take part in Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh or similar community-driven efforts.

“We participate because it’s something that’s important to us, our children, and generations yet to come,” she says. “We can’t look to organizations, school districts or government grants to singlehandedly revitalize the Gwich’in language. I believe it’s up to us.”

For more information on Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh and how to get involved in the Language Nest, please contact Allan Hayton at 907.459.2162 or haytona@doyon.com.

See below for our August Native word of the month in Gwich’in!

Zhehk’aa – Family
Shizhehk’aa naii gwiintł’oo goovihtsai’. – I cherish my family very much.

Listen to an audio recording.

August

Hai’ (thank you) to Allan Hayton for providing this month’s translation.

Have a translation in another language? Share it with us on Facebook!

Each month, a new Native word or phrase and definition will be shared on our website, as well as on our blog and Facebook page, along with an audio recording of the pronunciation.

Have an idea for a Native Word of the Month? Please email your idea to haytona@doyon.com.

See below for our July Native word of the month in Gwich’in!

Vits’ihnyaa = I help (him or her)
Shitsuu łuk tr’it’ii haa vits’ihnyaa geenjit shats’a’ shoo nilii. = My grandmother is happy I am helping her cut fish.

Listen to an audio recording.

JulyHai’ (thank you) to Allan Hayton for providing this month’s translation.

Have a translation in another language? Share it with us on Facebook!

Each month, a new Native word or phrase and definition will be shared on our website, as well as on our blog and Facebook page, along with an audio recording of the pronunciation.

Have an idea for a Native Word of the Month? Please email your idea to haytona@doyon.com.

teaSee below for our June Native word of the month in Gwich’in!

Lidii = Tea
Ko’ kat lidii tr’ahtsii łyaa akaii. = The tea we make on the fire sure tastes good.

Listen to an audio recording. Hai’ (thank you) to Allan Hayton for providing the translation.

 

Have a translation in another language? Share it with us on Facebook!

Each month, a new Native word or phrase and definition will be shared on our website, as well as on our blog and Facebook page, along with an audio recording of the pronunciation.

Have an idea for a Native Word of the Month? Please email your idea to haytona@doyon.com.