Language speakers, teachers, learners and anyone else interested in revitalizing the lIMG_1063anguages of the Doyon region are invited to the Deg Xinag and Holikachuk Language Gathering, hosted by Doyon Foundation in Holy Cross on Sunday and Monday, June 4 and 5.

The gathering will begin with dinner at 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 4. A meeting will take place 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Monday, June 5. Both events will be held at the Holy Cross School, and are free of charge.

IMG_1151The event will bring together Elders, speakers, teachers, learners and other stakeholders to create momentum for current and future language revitalization initiatives.

The goal of the gathering is to create a call to action, develop practical steps toward long-range goals, and share inspiration and hope around language revitalization.

The event is sponsored by Doyon Foundation with support from the Administration for Native Americans.

To RSVP for the gathering, or for more information on the event or the language revitalization program, contact Allan Hayton at 907-459-2162 or haytona@doyon.com.

The Doyon Languages Online program has had a busy spring! Read on for recaps of recent activities, and be sure to subscribe to the Doyon Foundation blog to receive future monthly updates.

Here’s what you will find in our spring update:

Doyon Languages Online Project Gets Underway

Language Demos Now Available

Presenting at the Alaska Native Studies Conference

Collaborating on Language Revitalization

Get Involved


Doyon Languages Online Project Gets Underway

The Doyon Languages Online (DLO) project got underway with a gathering of educators, speakers, and curriculum developers at Doyon Foundation on Saturday, February 18, 2017. Doyon Foundation Executive Director Doris Miller along with board president Lanien Livingston welcomed key representatives from five languages: Denaakk’e, Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in), Hän, Holikachuk, and Behnti Kenaga’.

The purpose of the meeting was to begin the first phase of a three-year project to create and post basic lessons online through partner 7000 Languages. 7000 Languages is a non-profit that connects endangered language communities with the technology to teach, learn, and revive their languages. The technology used in the DLO project is donated by Transparent Language. The open source platform will have the capacity to be continually modified and added to, ensuring it will be a valuable resource for learners for many generations to come. Ultimately, the project will include all languages in the Doyon region.

The day began with attendees introducing themselves in their own languages. Eliza Jones expressed that she was happy to be involved in the project, and that “working with my Denaakk’e language is nourishment for the soul.” As we finished the circle of introductions, Minto elder Sarah Silas said she loved hearing everyone speaking Athabascan language, and to her it sounded like “the most beautiful music, like all of the birds singing together and making the most amazing song.” She inspired the room with her warm comforting smile and gave everyone love and hope. Sarah shared that she was “so happy and proud that younger people were doing this good work.”

To familiarize everyone with the Transparent Language software, attendees broke into groups and recorded short conversations in their respective languages. This activity was instructive for everyone involved, and served as a “pilot demo” for the work ahead. These demos are available to preview at the end of this article.

The group enjoyed moose soup and fry bread for lunch, prepared by Doyon Foundation admin Sommer Stickman, and the crew at Doyon Facilities. After lunch Vera Weiser brought everyone back together with an uplifting song, “Onee’,” made by Evelyn Alexander as a prayer for a safe return of her granddaughter from firefighting in the Lower 48.

Sunday, February 19 was day two of the weekend workshop, and was a smaller group that focused on creating a template or “roadmap” for the 10 units of lessons in the project. Team members shared their ideas for creating “Day 1, Lesson 1” of the first unit. A development team will create a complete document for the 10 units by July, and this document will serve as a style guide for all five languages.

The DLO project strives to create a collaborative space for all team members to produce the best learning material possible. Doyon Foundation language committee member Rochelle Adams of Beaver stated, “I’m honored to do this good work for our people. I’m grateful to work alongside our elders and to connect with others that share the same passion and fire to put the breath back into our languages!”

David Engels of Minto added, “We are good Athabascans who travel and do not forget who we are, or where we come from.”

Darren Deacon of Kalskag has always loved languages, and has studied Russian and Japanese among other languages. His family teased him that he “loved to talk so much that he had to learn five different languages so he could talk some more.” This project will provide an opportunity for him to learn his Holikachuk language.

Language committee member and Holikachuk elder Elizabeth Keating felt that “It was special, heart-warming, hopeful, exciting and more. I especially enjoyed Darren’s enthusiasm for learning our language.”

Overall, it was a great weekend, and the group represented a model of collaboration that included elders, PhD-level professors, community members, and teachers that share a passion for the ancestral languages of our region.

Alexa Little, executive director of 7000 Languages, shared after the meeting, “We do a lot of our work over video conference, so it was a special experience for me to visit Alaska and meet the Doyon Languages Online team in person. I’m so excited watching this project take shape — it’s clear that everyone involved is extremely passionate about revitalizing these languages.”


Language Demos Now Available

Doyon Languages Online (DLO) is excited to announce our first series of demo lessons! These demos were created during the February 18 and 19 kick-off meeting, and provide short examples of what the DLO project is creating.

Test out demos of lessons in Denaakk’e, Holikachuk, Hän, Benhti Kenaga’, and Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in) by clicking on the icons below:

Han Demo button

Benhti button

holikachuk button

dinjii button

denaakke button


Presenting at the Alaska Native Studies Conference

The 2017 Alaska Native Studies Conference was held at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) April 7 – 9. Doyon Foundation staff Allan Hayton and Nathaniel Feemster presented at this year’s conference, sharing updates on the Doyon Languages Online (DLO) project.

Attendees at their presentation learned more about the DLO project, and were able to test out demos of lessons in Denaakk’e, Holikachuk, Hän, Benhti Kenaga’, and Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in). Allan also facilitated a Gwich’in language preconference session along with Caroline Tritt-Frank and Kenneth Frank, and co-presented on a panel for the Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh language nest.

The 2017 Alaska Native Studies Conference was an inspiring gathering of people, ideas, and hope for the future of our languages and cultures of the Doyon region and across the state. We look forward to the 2018 conference scheduled to be held in Juneau.

See more event photos on Facebook!


Collaborating on Language Revitalization

Doyon Languages Online (DLO) is a unique collaborative effort between five languages: Denaakk’e, Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in), Benhti Kenaga’, Hän, and Holikachuk. Due to the great distance between team members, collaboration takes place via technology such as Google Drive, email, video and teleconferencing.

We were fortunate to have everyone in the same room February 18 and 19, and we are aiming to host another gathering before July. The DLO project has held two more collaborative meetings (one on March 26 and one on April 23) via audio teleconference with the development team since the February 19 initial development meeting.

During these collaborative meetings, we share and discuss the material each language team has developed in the time between meetings. These meetings capitalize on the creativity and passion of each language team and allow them to work in conjunction, meaning that each language benefits from the work produced.

See more photos on Facebook!


Get Involved

If you’d like to get involved in the Doyon Languages Online efforts to revitalize our Native languages, or want to learn more, please contact Allan Hayton at 907.459.2162 or haytona@doyon.com, or Nathaniel Feemster at 907.459.2107 or feemstern@doyon.com.

The 10 ancestral languages of the Doyon region are all severely to critically endangered, and will be lost within the span of a few generations if no action is taken. To support the revitalization of Interior Alaska’s Native languages, Doyon Foundation will award a total of six grants of up to $5,000 each. The deadline to submit a proposal is Friday, February 24, 2017, at 5 p.m. Applications are available on the Foundation website. grant-flyer-jpeg

Doyon region tribal governments/tribal councils/communities; not-for-profit Alaska Native organizations, societies and community groups; and Alaska Native cultural, educational and recreational organizations/centers are eligible to apply for an Our Language grant.

Grant proposals must include a project description and timeline; plan for language documentation; project budget; completed community language survey; letter of support from village council or tribal office; and community language plan (optional).

Doyon, Limited originally established the language grant program in 2012. The grants are now being administered by the Doyon Foundation language revitalization program, which was created in 2009.

“We were very happy with the 2016 projects that were awarded, and look forward to this year’s round of proposals. These awards are essential to building momentum for language revitalization in our Doyon region communities” said Allan Hayton, director of the language revitalization program. “Our board and staff are committed to ensuring that current and future generations of Athabascan people have the opportunity to hear, to learn, and to speak the language of our ancestors.”

The endangered languages of the Doyon region include Benhti Kenaga’ (Lower Tanana), Deg Xinag, Denaakk’e (Koyukon), Denak’i (Upper Kuskokwim), Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in), Hän, Holikachuk, Tanacross, Née’aaneegn’ (Upper Tanana), and Inupiaq.

An application packet, with complete details and instructions, is available on the Doyon Foundation website. Additional information is also available by contacting Sommer Stickman, Doyon Foundation administrative assistant, at stickmans@doyon.com or 907-459-2048.

Sharing Language through Children’s Books

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 contact our language program director at haytona@doyon.com. You may also learn more about our language revitalization program on our website.

jamie-traillLanguage revitalization is important to Jamie Marunde. “Our Upper Tanana ways of life are changing so much and one part of our culture that we can always have and share is our language. It’s also a lot of fun to learn and practice,” said Jamie, who is the daughter of Glen and Cherie Marunde of Northway, Alaska. She lived in Northway for 19 years and has spent the past 10 years between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska.

Jamie is a former Doyon Foundation scholarship recipient, receiving support for her associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree and MBA. She currently works at Doyon, Limited as the operations manager, and is also the chair of Northway Natives, Inc., where she is the youngest elected member.

Earlier this year, Jamie was one of 13 Alaskans honored with a 2016 First Lady Volunteer of the Year Award. She was selected for the prestigious award because she has been a role model for young people in her village by living a healthy lifestyle, pursuing a higher education, and being committed to her culture and language.

Among her many activities, Jamie and her mom are leading an effort to create children’s books using the Upper Tanana Athabascan language. Upper Tanana Athabascan is spoken mainly in the Alaska villages of Northway, Tetlin and Tok, but has a small population also across the border in Canada. The indigenous name for the language is Nee’aaneegn’. The language is one of the 10 endangered Native languages in the Doyon region. Learn more about these languages and efforts to revitalize them on the Foundation website.

“My mom wanted to start making the books for her grandson and was translating our Upper Tanana words under English words in English books already,” Jamie said. “We came up with the idea to create our own Athabascan books for our own Athabascan youth.”

Jamie’s mom writes the words and double checks everything with Elders and other fluent speakers to make sure it is accurate. The village youth draw or color the pictures. Jamie then takes all of their work and inputs it into online software to create the book.

To date, they have created nine books, with seven readily available to purchase online at www.blurb.com/user/jamiem907. Book topics include counting from 1 – 10, body parts, common phrases, animals, bugs and weather. Future book ideas include fishing terms and family titles. Jamie said they plan to continue making as many books as possible and, in the future, would like to develop an Upper Tanana language app.

“Our goal is to create quality materials that are fun and teach our language,” Jamie said. “We are also trying to capture as many words as we can that aren’t in existing dictionaries while we have that opportunity.”

Doyon Foundation Language Revitalization Program Director Allan Hayton recently gave a plenary talk on Language Revitalization & The Arts at the Institute on Collaborative Language Research (CoLang), an international conference that took place at the University of Alaska Fairbanks June 20 – July 24, 2016.

CoLang is a biennial gathering designed to provide an opportunity for community language activists and linguists to receive training in community-based language documentation and revitalization. The conference consisted of two weeks of intensive language revitalization workshops and presentations, followed by a three-week linguistics field methods practicum in endangered languages.

In his June 28 presentation, available online here, Hayton shared his experiences collaborating on endangered language theatre projects, including a Perseverance Theatre production of Macbeth in the Tlingit language that was presented at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, a Gwich’in adaptation of King Lear (Lear Khehkwaii), and A Midsummer Night’s Dream featuring Tlingit, Yup’ik and Gwich’in languages (both productions with Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre).

The focus of Hayton’s talk was how the theatre can create a space for endangered languages to come to life, and how the arts can engage the imagination in the language classroom for educators and learners. A future production Hayton is currently dreaming up is a Romeo & Juliet in Gwich’in and Inupiaq languages.

In addition to the many wonderful workshops and presentations at CoLang, Hayton was especially interested in participating in the three-week practicum in linguistic field methods that closed out the conference. Participants could choose from among Hän (Athabascan), Unangam Tunuu (Aleut), or Miyako (Ryukyuan) practica. These practica provided excellent opportunities to sharpen documentation skills, engage with speakers, and make connections with others teaching and revitalizing these endangered languages.

Professor Dr. Willem De Reuse taught the Hän Athabascan practicum, with invaluable assistance from speakers Ruth Ridley, Ethel Beck, Adeline Juneby and Percy Henry. There were also young teachers and learners participating, including Shyanne Beatty from Eagle, and Georgette McLeod, Mary Henry, Angie Joseph-Rear, Melissa Hawkins and Erika Scheffen from Dawson, Yukon Territory. Graduate and undergraduate linguists from several different universities rounded out the class.

Hän is a very close sister language to Gwich’in, Hayton noted. “If you laid the two languages side by side, you would see many similarities,” he said. “But you cannot assume the rules for one language would automatically apply to the other. Each language in the world is unique, and the rules are implicitly decided among the speakers, changing fluidly over time.”

For example, he said, notice the similarities and differences in the translations below:

  • English: The moose walked towards the lake.
  • Hän: Jë̀jùu män ts’ą̈̀’ ä̀haww.
  • Gwich’in: Dinjik van ts’à’ ah’àl.

“It was a great experience in the classroom with the speakers, and everyone learned a great deal that will help in upcoming projects involving Hän, as well as other languages of the Doyon region,” Hayton said.

CoLang 2016 was an inspiring gathering of many different people from around the world, all focused on the work of documenting and revitalizing endangered languages, Hayton said. Endangered language communities face similar challenges, and this gathering allowed attendees to share their ideas, inspirations, solutions and hope with one another.

Hayton said he will take what he learned from his fellows at CoLang, and apply those lessons to work for languages in the Doyon region. “Adak’ohtii, ts’a’ diiginjk k’yaa kwaii eenjit tth’aii nihk’it gwiinzii gwitr’it t’agwahah’yaa yuu,” he said. “Take care, and keep up the good work on behalf of our languages.”

CoLang 2018 will be held at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

By Allan Hayton

Doyon Foundation Language Revitalization Program Director

The 2016 Alaska Language Summit organized by the office of Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, and hosted by the Sealaska Heritage Institute, took place February 22-23 at the Walter Soboleff Building in Juneau.

The event brought together leaders in Alaska Native language revitalization together with representatives from Hawaiian, Mohawk, and Maori languages. Guest lecturers Dr. Larry Kimura (University of Hawaii Hilo), Dr. Kēhaulani ʻAipia-Peters (‘Aha Punana Leo), Jeremy Tehota’kera:ton Green (Mohawk Six Nations), and Hana Mereraiha (Maori) shared their experiences, knowledge, and strategies for language revitalization with the summit.

This language summit was among the first of its kind here in Alaska. One of the major goals of the summit was to build a statewide network of support for those working in language revitalization. Kreiss-Tomkins, while working on the Alaska Native official languages bill, noticed that “people were independently developing models and practices in different regions of the state, and we felt there’s a lot of opportunity for people in different parts of Alaska to learn from each other.”

Attendees shared their concerns about the decline of Alaska Native languages, and also their hopes for the future. Dr. Edna Ahgeak MacLean, commissioner of Iñupiat History, Language, and Culture for the North Slope Borough, stated that the Indigenous languages of Alaska are “a source of wealth,” and that “no responsible leader would stand idly by while one of their riches is dwindling away.”

X’unei Lance Twitchell, assistant professor of Alaska Native languages at the University of Alaska Southeast, spoke about a hopeful vision for the future of Alaska Native languages where we could look back and ask ourselves, “Hey, remember how much trouble we were in? Remember how scary it was to think we might lose our languages?”

During the language summit there were presentations involving different education models from Sally Samson and Agatha John-Shields of the Ayaprun Elitnaurvik School in Bethel (charter school), Nikaitchuat Ilisagvait immersion school in Kotzebue (private/tribal), and Brandon Locke of the Anchorage School District (public). Other participants shared their language revitalization efforts including developing pre-kindergarten learning materials, master-apprentice programs, creating immersion childcare centers, creating wikis and online language classes, and building “language nests.”

It was truly empowering hearing all of the different languages, songs, ideas, inspiration, and the support for one another. The work of language revitalization can seem like such an uphill battle at times, so it is good to know we are not alone in this work. I hope that there will be many more language summits like this one in the future. Hai’ shalak naii datthak. Tth’aii nihk’it gwiinzii gwitr’it t’agoh’in. Thank you all my relatives. Keep up the good work.

Allan Hayton, Doyon Foundation’s language revitalization program director, spoke recently at the invitation-only TEDxFairbanks 2016. The event, which was the first TEDx event to be held in Fairbanks, took place February 21 at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center Theater, and was also web-streamed live around the world. View photos of the event.Hayton at TEXx 2

“It is an honor, and a great opportunity (to speak at the event),” Hayton said. “I think we all have important stories to share, and so I feel privileged to share some small part of my journey.”

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TEDx was created in the spirit of TED’s mission, “ideas worth spreading,” and supports independent organizers who want to create a TED-like event in their own community.

In his talk, titled Intimate Space: Athabascan Language, Land, Culture, Hayton discussed how the Athabascan languages of Alaska have developed over centuries in intimate conversation with the natural world.

“Each Athabascan language is a linguistic landscape: the sounds tł’, ts’, shr, a rustle of leaves; ghw, k’, t’, the feel of the earth beneath the feet; aii, oo, uu, branches growing towards the sun,” Hayton explained.

“Athabascan language, stories, beliefs and knowledge passed down for generations are intertwined with the land, representing a living, breathing life force. We must reconnect the broken ties with the land and our languages for healing and revitalization to begin,” he added.

Hayton said he enjoyed the other TEDx speakers, whose topics ranged from sparking innovation and reintegrating the arts, humanities and sciences, to social justice, art, and climate change.

“The genius and beauty of the TED series is that it’s about sharing ideas and inspiration from many different points of view,” Hayton remarked.

As the director of Doyon Foundation’s language revitalization program, Hayton believes it helps to speak publicly and share the story of language revitalization.

“A general audience doesn’t spend much time thinking about language revitalization, and why it is important,” he said. “I speak about language revitalization from my experiences within my own life. It helps to put a personal spin on such a large topic; people are better able to understand and relate from a human perspective.”

Hayton’s passion for language revitalization stems from time spent with elders during his youth in Arctic Village. “‘Diiginjik k’yaa riheeł’ee … We hold our language in high regard.’ I heard this expression many times from elders as I was growing up,” he shared. “They impressed it upon us younger people, and held us responsible for speaking and passing on the language. I still hear their voices in my memory, and I have to honor their wishes as best I can.”

For more information on Doyon Foundation and the language revitalization program, visit www.doyonfoundation.com. For more information on TEDxFairbanks, visit www.ted.com/tedx.