“Native languages are important to all Alaskans”

Beth LeonardBeth Leonard is a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage where she directs the Alaska Native Studies Program. She holds a doctorate in cross-cultural and Alaska Native studies in addition to degrees in linguistics and language and literacy. In 2014, she traveled to New Zealand as a Fulbright scholar.

Her parents are James Dementi of Nenana/Shageluk and the late Jean Dementi, originally from Ventura, California. Her maternal grandparents are Charles and Ruth Aubrey of Ventura, California; her paternal grandparents are Charlie Dementi of Dishkaket and Lena Phillips Dementi of Shageluk.  

Immediate family members include her husband, Michael Leonard; daughter, Samantha Jean Quinn, and son-in-law, Richard Quinn; and Jeanette Dementi, her father’s second wife, originally from Michigan.  

“I didn’t learn Deg Xinag growing up, so I didn’t understand and appreciate my culture as much as I could have,” Beth says. “Language helps connect me with my immediate and extended family. It strengthens my identity as a Deg Xit’an person.”

Beth was in her early 30s when she began learning the language from her father, James Dementi. “He was very patient,” she recalls. The two recently worked together to contribute translations for a new Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation building in Bethel. Elders who taught community-based language and cultural activities, sometimes including audioconferenced university courses, were also instrumental to her learning. These Elders included Raymond Dutchman, Hannah Maillelle, Katherine Hamilton, Louise Winkelman, Edna Deacon and Lucy Hamilton. Beth also learned from audio recordings of Belle Deacon of Grayling, Grace John of Shageluk, and others who were recorded during the 1970s Alaska Native Oral Literature Project.

“Because Alaska Native languages are so different from English, they’re often considered hard to learn,” Beth says. Learning to speak authentically can be a challenge; everyday activities may be expressed in several ways, so that some variations are more suited to certain situations or seasons than others.

“Fear of making mistakes has been among my biggest challenges,” Beth says.

She’s grateful for chances to learn with other language students and Elders: “I wish I’d learned more of the language as a younger person. Immersion programs, like those in Anchorage and Fairbanks, among other sites, are signs that young people are eager to learn Native languages.”

“I’m thankful for Elders and young people who take on this work,” she says. While administrative duties have limited her teaching lately, she’s eager to help guide efforts for Native language learning at the university level and beyond, including language revitalization work undertaken by some members of the Alaska Native Studies Council.

A class in Athabascan linguistics taught by Professor James Kari at the University of Alaska Fairbanks inspired Beth’s interest in learning Deg Xinag. His course and others introduced her to the history of ways that indigenous languages had been suppressed and marginalized. She went on to work with Alice Taff, a professor from the University of Alaska Southeast, who’s since retired. Alice contributed to a grammar of Deg Xinag and, with the help of educator Donna MacAlpine and several Elders, developed a Deg Xinag online dictionary. More recently, Alice and Donna recorded stories by Hannah Maillelle, Ellen Savage and Edna Deacon, available through a University of Alaska Southeast website.

Instrumental work in Deg Xinag has been done by many community members and educators, including Malinda and Marilyn Chase of Fairbanks/Anvik, George Holly of Soldotna/Holy Cross, and Jeanette Dementi, who helped translate the Lord’s Prayer and developed language-learning games, songs and other materials. Jeanette also recorded Beth’s father’s story about butchering a moose.

Sonta Hamilton Roach from Shageluk and Dr. LaVerne Demientieff from Fairbanks/Holy Cross have been active most recently in Deg Xinag language teaching initiatives, including facilitating the “Where Are Your Keys” method. LaVerne also began hosting a telephone language learning group in fall 2018.

Immersion methods of language learning, along with listening to recorded stories and conversations, are useful strategies for Beth because she’s not distracted by writing. “I found that I became too dependent on the writing system when I should have been developing my listening skills,” she says. For language learning, active listening can help with memorizing and pronunciation.

“Native languages are important to all of us Alaskans, as they carry thousands of years of knowledge and wisdom,” Beth says, adding that the languages embody worldviews that contrast with Western ways.

Virtues such as respect and reciprocity and the importance of right relationships are a foundation for many indigenous peoples in the way they speak about – and with – other people, the land and waters, and other beings that share the world. “These values are carried through Alaska Native languages in complex, academic ways,” Beth says.

As Doyon Foundation continues to grow our language revitalization efforts in the Doyon region, we would like 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.

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DEADLINE EXTENDED to Friday, February 15, 2019

 

In a continuing effort to revitalize the endangered Native languages of the Doyon region, Doyon Foundation will award grants of up to $5,000 to support language revitalization efforts. The application deadline for the 2019 Our Language grants has been extended to Friday, February 15, 2019, at 5 p.m. 

Download the 2019 Our Language grant application

Download and share grant informational flyer

Doyon region tribal governments/tribal councils/communities; nonprofit 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).

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. These endangered languages include Nee’aanèegn’ (Upper Tanana), Dihthaad Xt’een Iin Aanděeg’ (Tanacross), Hän, Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in), Dinak’i (Upper Kuskokwim), Denaakk’e (Koyukon), Deg Xinag, Benhti Kokhut’ana Kenaga (Lower Tanana), Holikachuk, and Inupiaq.

Doyon, Limited established the language grant program in 2012, and the Doyon Foundation language revitalization program now manages the grant program. Last year, the Foundation awarded nine grants totaling $64,000 to support projects including professional development, radio broadcasts, teacher training, audio and video lesson development, language immersion activities, culture camps, and lesson plan development. Read more about the 2018 grant recipients on the Foundation blog.

“The goal of the Our Language grant program is to support efforts to revitalize the endangered languages of the Doyon region. We are honored to support awardees as they bring their language projects to life,” said Allan Hayton, director of the Foundation’s language revitalization program.

An application packet, with complete details and instructions, is available here. For additional information, contact Jennifer Mayo-Shannon at 907.459.2074 or mayo-shannonj@doyon.com.

Doyon Foundation hosted a language gathering for Nee’anděg’ (Tanacross) and Nee’aanèegn’ (Upper Tanana) languages on June 5, 6 and 7, 2018, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks – Tok Campus. The group of 25 participants met from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. all three days. The workshop, which was free and open to all, was a great opportunity for those wanting to learn or improve their skills in these languages.

Instructors Irene Arnold and Cheryl Silas, along with Elders and speakers from both languages, introduced learners to essentials of Nee’anděg’ (Tanacross) and Nee’aanèegn’ (Upper Tanana). Topics covered included basic literacy, conversation and listening.

“The most meaningful thing that I took away from the gathering was being there with the Elders and listening to them speak the language fluently with each other and being able to share that knowledge with the younger people that were there,” said participant Adena Cronk of Northway.

Among the activities, attendees learned and practiced introducing themselves in the language (see the Upper Tanana introduction worksheet here, and Tanacross introduction worksheet here), and translated “I am learning our language” with Elders. Tanacross instructor Irene Arnold shared a DVD titled “K’anech’oxdekdiigh: I’m Not Going to Teach You,” a collaboration between the Tanacross community and trained linguistic specialists from the Alaska Native Language Center. View the video here.

“The main takeaway for me was learning my introduction,” said participant Chance Shank of Dot Lake. He added, “I was glad to meet and speak with the other people at the gathering who are fluent in the language.”

Participant Peg Charlie of Tanacross agreed: “For someone who understands the language and grew up with it, it felt really good to be amongst our people and it was a good feeling to hear the language.”

At the gathering, Doyon Foundation staff also introduced the Doyon Languages Online project, which is working to create highly accessible online language-learning lessons for the endangered languages of the Doyon region.

There are currently two phases of the project. Phase one, which has funding support from the Administration of Native Americans (ANA), is focusing on five of the 10 Doyon region languages: Holikachuk, Denaakk’e (Koyukon), Benhti Kenaga’ (Lower Tanana), Hän, and Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in). Phase two, with funding support from the U.S. Department of Education – Alaska Native Educational Program (ANEP), will increase the number of people who speak the Doyon region languages of Nee’anděg’ (Tanacross), Nee’aanèegn’ (Upper Tanana), Deg Xinag and Denak’i (Upper Kuskokwim).

The Foundation is currently seeking people interested in working as content creators and linguistic consultants on the ANEP-funded phase of Doyon Languages Online. Find more information and apply on the Foundation blog.

The ANEP-funded phase of Doyon Languages Online is a partnership with the Alaska Gateway School District (AGSD), and this gathering served as a kick-off to the three-year project. AGSD Superintendent Scott MacManus joined the group discussion, and is very enthusiastic about working together on this project.

“It was exciting to see first hand, the building momentum for the work being done by the language revitalization group this summer, and Alaska Gateway School District is thrilled to be a partner in this important and life-changing project,” MacManus said.

The Iditarod Area School District is another grant partner, and plans are underway for a similar gathering in their region for Deg Xinag and Dinak’i languages.

Before the gathering concluded, the group decided on a series of action items for moving forward over the next couple of years. These included:

  • Building on the language network across Alaska
  • Greeting others in the language
  • Making labels in the home as a reminder to stay in the language
  • Connecting with other learners
  • Creating a language domain in the home (a place in the home where you will only speak in the language)

“It gave me a boost to want to work more with the language,” said participant Lorraine Titus of Northway. “What I enjoyed the most was the flexibility of the event; we got things done but we didn’t have to follow an agenda.”

“Tsin’ee to all who joined us in Tok for the Nee’anděg’ and Nee’aanèegn’ language gathering,” said Diloola Erickson, Doyon Languages Online project manager. “The work that came out of the gathering was amazing and we’re excited to start working more with the participants and their language communities in the future.”

The Foundation offers a special thank you to the Elders present at the gathering, including Avis Sam of Northway, Roy David of Tetlin, Rosa Brewer of Northway, Cora Demit of Northway and Lorraine Titus of Northway.

For more information on Doyon Foundation, Doyon Languages Online or upcoming language revitalization events, please visit www.doyonfoundation.com.

 

 

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Doyon Foundation is pleased to announce a call for linguistics consultants and content creators for the Doyon Languages Online project. Interested applicants are encouraged to review the RFQs (request for qualifications) posted below and apply.

View linguistic consultant RFQ

View content creator RFQ

View application

The selected linguistics consultants and content creators will work with the Doyon Languages Online project to create 224 introductory online lessons for four of the endangered Doyon region languages: Nee’aanèegn’ (Upper Tanana), Dihthaad Xt’een Iin Aanděeg’ (Tanacross), Deg Xinag and Dinak’i (Upper Kuskokwim).

Doyon Foundation received a three-year, $977,423 grant last fall from the U.S. Department of Education – Alaska Native Educational Program for this work, which builds on the progress of the existing Doyon Languages Online project.

Doyon Languages Online is currently 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 the new funding, the Foundation is able to produce online learning opportunities for nine of the 10 indigenous languages of the Doyon region, in partnership with 7000Languages, a nonprofit that supports endangered language learning partially through software donated by Transparent Language Online.

For more information on the project scope, background, qualifications and selection process, please see the linguistic consultant RFQ and content creator RFQ. To apply, view and complete the application.

For additional information on Doyon Foundation or the Doyon Languages Online project, visit doyonfoundation.com or contact Allan Hayton at haytona@doyon.com or 907.459.2162.

 

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Join Doyon Foundation for the Nee’andeg’ (Tanacross) and Née’aaneegn’ (Upper Tanana) Language Gathering, to be held June 5 – 7, 2018 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks – Tok Campus from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily.

The three-day language workshop will focus on the Nee’anděg’ (Tanacross) and Née’aaneegn’ (Upper Tanana) languages. This free, all-ages gathering is open to anyone who wants to learn or improve their skills in these languages. 

Instructors Irene Arnold and Cheryl Silas will introduce learners to essentials of Nee’anděg’ (Tanacross) and Née’aaneegn’ (Upper Tanana). Topics will include basic literacy, conversation and listening, and introduce the Doyon Languages Online project. 

There is no cost to attend, but participants should register in advance at doyonfoundation.com.

For more information, contact Allan Hayton at haytona@doyon.com or 907.459.2162. 

Doyon Languages Online is funded by Doyon Foundation and the Alaska Native Education Equity Program, U.S. Department of Education. 

DF_17_GrantApplicationDeadline Promotion_blog_v2The 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 grants of up to $8,000 to fund language revitalization projects through the Our Language grant program. The deadline to submit a proposal has been extended to Monday, March 26, 2018, at 5 p.m. Download the application packet or view the flyer below:

2018 Our Language Grant Application

2018 Mini Grant Flyer

Doyon region tribal governments/tribal councils/communities; nonprofit 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. Last year, the Foundation awarded eight grants to support projects including community language classes, language app development, language learning through song and dance, curriculum development and summer camp activities. Read more about the 2017 grant recipients on the Foundation blog.

“The 2017 Our Language grant awardees are an outstanding group dedicated to ensuring the ancestral languages of the Doyon region continue on for future generations,” said Allan Hayton, director of the Foundation’s language revitalization program.

The endangered languages of the Doyon region include Nee’aanèegn’ (Upper Tanana), Dihthaad Xt’een Iin Aanděeg’ (Tanacross), Hän, Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in), Dinak’i (Upper Kuskokwim), Denaakk’e (Koyukon), Deg Xinag, Benhti Kokhut’ana Kenaga (Lower Tanana), Holikachuk, and Inupiaq.

An application packet, with complete details and instructions, is available here: 2018 Our Language Grant Application. Additional information is also available by contacting Niesje Tindall, Doyon Foundation administrative assistant, at 907.459.2048 or tindalln@doyon.com.

 

The 2018 Pick. Click. Give. campaign kicks off Monday, January 1, with the opening of the Alaska PFD application period. We encourage you to consider Pick. Click. Giving to Doyon Foundation when completing your PFD application. The PFD application period runs January 1 – March 31, 2018. Alaskans can apply online at www.pfd.alaska.gov.

student with checkFunds from Pick. Click. Give. directly benefit the Foundation’s student scholarships and support programs, as well as the efforts of our language revitalization program.

Last year, 57 donors contributed $3,975 to support Foundation scholarships. While we are very grateful for all support, last year’s Pick. Click. Give. total was a significant decrease from previous years.

Since the Foundation was established in 1989, we have awarded more than $6 million in scholarships to thousands of high school, vocational and college students pursuing their educational goals and striving to achieve their life dreams. Many of these students have shared that they simply would not have been able to attend college without the support of the Foundation. Yet with that support, they have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, teachers and leaders in our communities, setting positive examples for future generations of students to follow.
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But the support of the Foundation is more than just financial. Homesick students far from family have found comfort in the support of Foundation staff and alumni, and at events designed to celebrate and connect students and Foundation supporters. We also strive to help students develop a deeper connection with and pride in their rich Native culture.
Elder and youth recording Native language translationsIn addition to scholarships, the Foundation also places emphasis on celebrating and revitalizing Native culture. Through our language revitalization program, and Doyon Languages Online project, we are currently developing hundreds of online language-learning lessons for nine of the 10 Doyon region languages.

For more information on Doyon Foundation, contact foundation@doyon.com or 907-459-2048, or visit www.doyonfoundation.com. For more information on Pick. Click. Give., visit www.pickclickgive.org.