‘If you’re interested in learning your language, then begin today’

A speaker and instructor of Gwich’in at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), Hishinlai’ Peter is the daughter of Katherine Peter of Stevens Village and Steven Peter of Arctic Village. Her grandparents are Soozan and Peter Shajol of Arctic Village. Hishinlai’s family includes her husband, Jeff Currey; daughters, Francine Kazenoff and Hannah Sikorski; and four grandchildren.

Hishinlai’ graduated from UAF where she earned a bachelor’s degree in linguistics, a master’s of education in curriculum and instruction, and a doctorate in applied linguistics for her dissertation that explored the relationship between Gwich’in adult language learning and identity development. She lives in Fairbanks.

Hishinlai’ Peter’s commitment to Gwich’in is far reaching: From teaching the language to university students and working on a Gwich’in dictionary, to annotating traditional stories and providing translations for voting materials and to promote public health during the pandemic, Hishinlai’s work demonstrates the ways that language defines a person’s core.

“Language is the root of your identity,” she says. “If you’re interested in learning your language, then begin today. You don’t need a classroom or money. And you don’t need to sound perfect.”

A key figure in her own learning is Lillian Garnett, an Elder from Arctic Village and noted contributor to linguistic materials and story collections published in Gwich’in.

Gwich’in is among Arctic Indigenous languages in the Doyon region that are a focus of revitalization, including a series of online courses offered through Doyon Foundation’s Doyon Languages Online project. In 2019, Hishinlai’ was a member of a Doyon Languages Online team that developed the Foundation’s online language-learning course in Gwich’in. The course is currently available for free to all interested language learners via the Doyon Foundation website.

Hishinlai’ is also a linguist who serves on the advisory board of Tanan Ch’at’oh, the language immersion nest in Fairbanks that enrolled a first group of toddlers 2021.

Hishinlai’ encourages students learning the language to let others know: “Learn how to say in the language, ‘Help me, how do we say….’ Let people know you’re trying.”

“Remember to stay positive,” she adds. “Use the humor that’s inherent in our cultures to learn or teach your language.” She advises students to find others who are at their fluency level and then learn together or to teach what they’ve already mastered.

Her plans include continuing to help children learn the language and developing course materials. When she started teaching at UAF in 2002, language courses were face to face before shifting to online in 2020 because of the virus pandemic. Hishinlai’ at first found it challenging to come up with interactive games to foster language learning. Students eventually worked together through worksheets, and Hishinlai’ developed card games for use in a student’s own environment. She went on to develop activities for teaching other languages, such as Yup’ik or Iñupiaq, that are not in the same language family as Dene.

A hurdle for many students whose first language is English is a tendency to default to English when attempting to speak in another language. Hishinlai’s advice to teachers: Keep speaking to students in the language without falling back on English. “Practice, determination and not being afraid to make mistakes are among the best learning techniques,” she says.

About Doyon Languages Online

Through the Doyon Language Online project, Doyon Foundation is developing introductory online lessons for 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 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 the Language Champion Profile Series

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.

Here are your December 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 December photo by Richard Mueller

Photo by Richard Mueller

December = Ch’atsal

Deegwii’in? = What’s going on?

Drin Tsal gwats’a’ khan gwaadhal ts’a’ niiyut kwaa gwiintł’oo hahshii ginyaa. = Christmas is coming up fast, and they say it is going to snow a lot soon.

Listen to an audio recording of the translation:

Dihthaad Xt’een Iin Aanděeg’ (Tanacross)

Tanacross Dec photo

December = Wunenh Nach’ehjedh

Xághįhsháatth = It began to snow.

Nee’éł xághįhsháatth. = It began snowing heavily (with us).

Listen to an audio recording of the translation:

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.

See below for our April and May Native words of the month in Gwich’in! Hai’ (thank you) to Allan Hayton for providing the translation and photography.P1120223

April 

Gwahahgo’ = It is turning springtime.

Chiitaii gwahahgo’ ts’a’ shroonch’yaa gwilii. = It is becoming springtime and nice outside.

Listen to an audio recording.

May 

Ch’at’an = Leaves

Aat’oo kat ch’at’an kwaii neegwahshii. = The leaves are spouting on the birch trees.

Listen to an audio recording.

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

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

Woman and child

Mary “Dzan” Johnson and daughter Lena, Fort Yukon circa 1916. Photo courtesy of Allan Hayton.

See below for our February Native word of the month in Gwich’in and Deg Xinag!

Gwich’in

Dink’indhat – He or she grew up.
Shahan Gwichyaa Zhee dink’indhat. – My mom grew up in Fort Yukon.
Shiti’ Natick dink’indhat. – My father grew up in Natick.

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

Deg Xinag

Nadhiyonh – He or she grew up in
Singonh Deloychet nadhiyonh. – My mom grew up in Holy Cross.
Sito’ Qay Xichux nadhiyonh. – My dad grew up in Anchorage.

Listen to an audio recording. Dogidinh (thank you) to George Demientieff Holly for providing the translation.

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

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

Congratulations to Doyon Foundation board member Allan Hayton, who was featured today in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner.

Allan is playing King Lear in “Lear Khehkwaii,” a “uniquely Alaskan adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy,” put on by Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre. Allan and director Tom Robenolt have worked together for more than a year on the play, which is divided equally between English and the Athabascan language of Gwich’in.

After its opening run in Fairbanks, the production will tour schools in Anchorage, Tok, Nenana, Healy, Kotzebue, Nome and Arctic Village.

Read more at http://www.newsminer.com/news/local_news/shakespeare-in-alaska-collaboration-turns-king-lear-into-a-gwich/article_61c3b424-9a9c-11e2-98d7-001a4bcf6878.html.

Three new members and one incumbent were elected to the Doyon Foundation board of directors at the Foundation’s annual membership meeting on November 10. Joining the board are Joshua Peter, elected for a three-year term; Allan Hayton, elected for a two-year remainder term; and Lanien M. Livingston, elected for a one-year remainder term. Incumbent board member Julie Anderson was re-elected for a three-year term.

Joshua Peter

Joshua Peter

Allan Hayton

Allan Hayton

Lanien Livingston

Lanien Livingston

Joshua Peter, originally of Nulato and currently residing in Fairbanks, is the son of the late Hattie Peter, and the grandson of the late Simel and Vivian Peter. He and his wife, Margaret Matthew, have two sons, Daniel and Mathias. Peter, a Doyon Foundation alumnus, holds an associate’s of applied science degree in computer and information technology systems from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). His 14-year career in IT services included employment at UAF and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company. Peter is now working as an assistant professor with the UAF Community and Technical College. He also serves on the Gana-A’Yoo investment and shareholder committees.

“I’ve been fortunate to have guidance and motivation from amazing mentors and leaders. What I hope to accomplish as a member of the board is to share my experience with Doyon shareholder students,” Peter said.

Allan Hayton (Diton) is Gwich’in Athabascan and grew up in Arctic Village (Vashrąįį K’ǫǫ), Alaska. His parents are Lena Pauline Hayton from Fort Yukon, and James T. Hayton. His grandparents are Robert and Lena Albert from Tanana and Fort Yukon. Hayton, a Doyon Foundation alumnus, studied theatre at Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Kansas, finishing his bachelor’s of arts degree in 1992. Hayton is currently finishing a master’s of arts degree in applied linguistics at UAF, and has been teaching Gwich’in language to new generations of speakers. He previously served on the Doyon Foundation language revitalization committee, and is active at St. Matthew’s Church.

Hayton said he believes in the goals of the Doyon Foundation and has benefited from their support in pursuit of his educational goals. He hopes to return that support by working to create educational opportunities for others.

Lanien M. Livingston is originally from Anchorage and makes her home in Fairbanks. She is the daughter of Phyllis Sing Garrett from Sitka and the granddaughter of the late Sam Sing from Sitka and the late Sarah Frances Lindgren from Kenai. She is Tlingit/Kenaitze. Livingston, a Doyon Foundation alumna, holds an associate’s of applied science degree in applied business and a business management certificate from UAF. She is also a 2004 graduate of the Doyon Management Training program. Livingston currently works as a recruiter for Tanana Chiefs Conference in the human resources department.

“I am honored to serve on the Doyon Foundation board. I hope to help the Doyon Foundation support the educational needs of our students. Furthering one’s education is very important and will provide many rewards for years to come,” Livingston said.

Julie Anderson, an incumbent board member who served as board secretary and treasurer last year, was re-elected to the board. Read more about Anderson on the Foundation’s website.

Peter, Hayton, Livingston and Anderson join Paul Mountain, Victor Nicholas and Teisha Simmons on the Foundation’s seven-member board of directors.