Strong roots connect us to our well-being”

Jennifer with Great Aunt Elizabeth Fleagle

Jennifer with her great-aunt, Dr. Elizabeth Fleagle

Originally from the Interior community of Allakaket on the Koyukuk River, Jennifer Adams is the daughter of the late Bob Maguire of Chelan, Washington, and the late Cora (Moses) Maguire of Allakaket. Jennifer’s maternal grandparents are Johnson Bergman Moses of Allakaket and the late Bertha (Nictune) Moses of Alatna. Other family include Jennifer’s great-aunt, Dr. Elizabeth Fleagle, a sister of Bertha Moses.

Jennifer is director of the Juneau-based Small Business Development Center, a unit within the Alaska Small Business Development Center, University of Alaska Anchorage. A Doyon Foundation scholarship recipient, Jennifer graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a bachelor’s degree in 2004 and a master’s of business administration in 2013. Her languages are Denaakk’e, spoken by Koyukon Alaska Native people, and Inupiaq, spoken by Inupiaq Alaska Native people.

Jennifer was a child when her father began introducing her to Inupiaq and Koyukon Athabascan. A non-Native teacher who came to Alaska straight out of college to teach at rural schools, Bob eventually arrived at Allakaket and met Cora, Jennifer’s mother.

Bob immersed himself in Koyukon and Athabascan cultures and in the lifestyles of Allakaket and Alatna. From his father-in-law, Johnson Moses, Bob learned Koyukon Athabascan vocabulary; his mother-in-law, Bertha Nictune Moses, taught him Inupiaq words. Jennifer grew up hearing her father readily incorporate both languages in everyday life.

“He’d say, ‘Wipe your nuvuk,’ (‘boogers,’ in Inupiaq) or ‘You have a big chaga,’ (‘stomach,’ in Koyukon Athabascan),” Jennifer says. And while Episcopal missionaries arriving in the early 1900s taught Jennifer’s parents not to speak their languages – and to not pass them on to their children – Jennifer’s mother went on to learn to speak Koyukon Athabascan as adult after studying at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Jennifer was enrolled in a fifth-grade bilingual Inupiaq class at Shugnak while her mother completed student teaching at a local school.

Jennifer believes that reconnecting Indigenous people to their culture and languages promotes a healthy society. And though her home in Juneau is far from people who speak her Native languages, Jennifer retains her connection by taking part in programs, including the He ‘ lelo Ola Hilo Field Study Conference in Hilo, Hawaii, in 2017.

“The conference was vital to learning about language immersion programs,” she says. Knowledge gained there led her to write a $1.6 million grant awarded to the Fairbanks Native Association for a Koyukon Athabascan classroom immersion program for preschoolers.

Her plans include continuing to research and write grants and enrolling in language courses in Inupiaq and Koyukon Athabascan. She also serves on Doyon Foundation’s language revitalization committee and was elected to the Foundation board of directors in November 2019.

“I’d like to thank Doyon Foundation and any other organizations that are instrumental in language learning programs,” she says. She knows from her own childhood that one of the best ways to acquire language is to use it in everyday settings.

“Language connects me to my culture,” Jennifer says. “It’s important to learn and preserve language knowledge so we have strong roots that connect us to our well-being.”

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.

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 foundation@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.

Oline (far left), her granddaughter Stephanie in the middle, and Teresa Hanson

Oline (far left) with her granddaughter, Stephanie (middle), and Teresa Hanson

Born in the Athabascan community of Nikolai, Oline Petruska is a Doyon Foundation language champion committed to speaking and writing Dinak’i, the language of Alaska Native people of the upper Kuskokwim River. Oline is a daughter of Miska and Anna Alexia, and a granddaughter of Alex and Lena Alexia, all of Nikolai.

From 1961 to 1963, Oline attended Mount Edgecumbe High School, the Sitka-based residential school attracting primarily Alaska Native students from around the state. In 1969, she joined VISTA, the Kennedy-era national service program aimed at alleviating poverty, and served as a preschool and adult basic education teacher in Nikolai.

Oline’s family includes her daughter, Shirley, of Nikolai; brother, Mike, of Anchorage; and granddaughter, Stephanie, of Nikolai. All are studying Dinak’i through Doyon Foundation’s Doyon Languages Online project, which offers free access to online courses in Alaska Native languages spoken throughout the Doyon region. Doyon Foundation officially launched Doyon Languages Online in summer 2019 with the release of the first four courses in Gwich’inDenaakk’eBenhti Kenaga’ and Holikachuk.

A visitor dropping by is likely to find Oline busy with her language lessons, turning Dinak’i written words into sentences describing the world around her. “I know the language,” she says, “but I want to learn to write it, so that kids in the future will have something to learn by. I’ve always had a desire to see people learn and get ahead.”

Motivating her own learning are childhood memories of her grandmother and mother, making their way in a world where sled dog teams ran the mail trail through Nikolai and her mother worked at a local roadhouse. “It brings back memories of mom and grandma, talking a long time ago,” Oline says of her own efforts to speak and write the Dinak’i language.

As a little girl attending school in Nikolai, Oline recalls being punished for speaking her language. “I had no interest in writing or speaking (Dinak’i) until just about a year ago. It just takes me to make up my mind to do something,” she says with a laugh. She enrolled in lessons through Doyon Foundation and has been working steadily with the goal of writing in Dinak’i.

“I’m constantly writing words down – words that I think are cool – and after a while I’ll write a sentence. It’s been exciting to learn,” she says. A recent afternoon had Oline observing the changing seasons: In Dinak’i she wrote, It’s windy and the leaves are falling. 

Consulting a dictionary helps. So does persistence. Oline says that compared with English, written words in Dinak’i can seem very long. Even an everyday word like “sewing” can send Oline to the dictionary to check her translation. “I still have trouble figuring out how to write some words,” she says. “I enjoy the challenge.”

A chance to work with schoolchildren last year convinced her that language revitalization efforts belong in the elementary-grade classrooms. She recalls two children – a fourth grader and fifth grader – so ready to learn that they acquired Dinak’i surprisingly fast. “More people will take the language once it gets into the classrooms, and especially with the young ones,” Oline says. “That’s my hope.”

Doyon Language Online develops 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).

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.

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 foundation@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 August 2019 Native words of the month in Hän.

Salmon

Thank you to our speaker, the late Isaac Juneby.

Łuu choo = Salmon

Łuu choo nįdhän. = He wants salmon

171uri

Thank you to our speaker, Ruth Ridley.

Ä̀h’ä̀ä = Outside

Ä̀h’ä̀ä k’oh hònlįį. = It is cloudy outside.

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!

111_DLO_Course Promotion_Benhti Kenaga'_FB-INCourse now available for free to all interested learners

Doyon Foundation officially launched its Doyon Languages Online project today with the release of a language-learning course for Benhti Kenaga’, one of the 10 endangered languages of the Doyon region. The online course is now available at no charge to all interested language learners through the Doyon Foundation website.

 

 

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Benhti Kenaga’ is one of the string of Athabascan languages and dialects spoken on the Tanana River in Alaska. Benhti, Toghotili, Ch’eno’ and Salchaket are all members of this group, but only Benhti Kenaga’ is spoken now. Benhti means “Among the lakes” and Kenaga’ refers to “the language.”

“Today, language use is strongest within our songs, either alone or in a group. Singing gives us the ability to express a connection to the past. Growing up hearing Elders sing these songs of yesterday prepared us for today, and gives strength to move forward. This also is a part of who we are, something that makes us unique,” shared the Benhti Kenaga’ content creation team.

The course was developed by a team of content creators, Elders and a linguistics consultant, with the support of Foundation staff. The team drafted the initial course over a two-week time period last year. Over the past year, with linguistic consultation and coaching from speakers, the team finalized and recorded the course, and developed supporting content including videos, slides and interactives.

“The Benhti Kenaga’ content creation team is an inspiration,” said Doris Miller, Doyon Foundation’s executive director. “Witnessing them coming together to speak their language, share their stories and develop lessons that would allow them to pass their language on to future generations was an incredible experience. Doyon Foundation is so pleased to have played a role in facilitating this language revitalization.”

The finished course includes 10 units, each with five lessons of content, reviews and unit assessments, as well as 15 conversational videos with subtitles in English and Benhti Kenaga’, and 13 culture and grammar notes. The Benhti Kenaga’ Pocket Dictionary, published in 2009 and available through the Alaska Native Language Center, is a recommended supplemental resource for anyone taking the course.

The Foundation extends a special thank you to Elders Sarah Silas, Vernell Titus, Anna Frank and Andy Jimmie; the Benhti Kenaga’ content creators/contributors David Engles, Vera Weiser and Bertina Titus; linguistic consultant Siri Tuttle; the Village of Minto; the City of Nenana; Doyon, Limited; Doyon Facilities; Julian Thibedeau; and all of the authors and contributors who created materials for the Benhti Kenaga’ language from 1970 to today, making the creation of this course possible.

The Benhti Kenaga’ course is the first in a series of courses to be launched through the Doyon Languages Online project, which is creating introductory online lessons for nine of the 10 endangered Doyon region languages: 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 Foundation plans to release three additional courses over the next month.

Last month, Doyon Foundation gave a preview of Doyon Languages Online with the release of a special set of Hän language lessons based on the work of the late Isaac Juneby, an Alaska Native leader, respected Elder and language revitalization pioneer.

Doyon Languages Online is a partnership between Doyon Foundation and 7000 Languages, a nonprofit that supports endangered language learning through software donated by Transparent Language. It 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 Doyon Languages Online launch coincides with the International Year of Indigenous Languages, which Doyon Foundation is a partner organization of.  In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. At the time, it was estimated that 40 percent of the 6,700 languages spoken around the world were in danger of disappearing.

For more information on the Benhti Kenaga’ course and the Doyon Languages Online project, please visit the Foundation website or contact 907.459.2048 or foundation@doyon.com. For assistance signing up for or using Doyon Languages Online, view the instructional video series on YouTube.

ANA Language Revitalization Grant #: 90NL0626. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this publication, and all others associated with the Doyon Languages Online project, do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Administration for Children and Families, or the Administration for Native Americans.

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First course to be released tomorrow; three additional to follow

Tomorrow, Friday, June 21, after three years of dedicated efforts, Doyon Foundation will officially launch its Doyon Languages Online project with the release of the first online language-learning course featuring Benhti Kenaga’, one of the 10 endangered languages of the Doyon region. Over the next two weeks, the Foundation will release three additional courses: Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in), Denaakk’e (Koyukon) and Holikachuk. All courses will be available at no charge to all interested language learners through the Doyon Foundation website.

Earlier this spring, the Foundation gave a preview of Doyon Languages Online with the release of a special set of Hän language lessons based on the work of the late Isaac Juneby, an Alaska Native leader, respected Elder and language revitalization pioneer. Those lessons are currently available through the Doyon Foundation website.

The declining number of speakers, and the desire to preserve and pass along the Native languages of the Doyon region to future generations is the driving force behind Doyon Foundation’s Doyon Languages Online project, which began in 2016.

With the support of teams of content creators, Elders and linguistics consultants, the project is creating introductory online lessons for nine of the 10 endangered Doyon region languages: 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 content creation teams have been an inspiration,” said Doris Miller, Doyon Foundation’s executive director. “Witnessing them coming together to speak their language, share their stories and develop lessons that would allow them to pass their language on to future generations was an incredible experience. Doyon Foundation is so pleased to have played a role in facilitating this language revitalization.”

The Doyon Languages Online launch coincides with the International Year of Indigenous Languages, which Doyon Foundation is a partner organization of.  In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. At the time, it was estimated that 40 percent of the 6,700 languages spoken around the world were in danger of disappearing.

“After years of dedicated efforts, we are so pleased to share this language revitalization work with all interested learners,” Miller said. “It is even more special to launch Doyon Languages Online in conjunction with the International Year of Indigenous Languages.”

Doyon Languages Online is a partnership between Doyon Foundation and 7000 Languages, a nonprofit that supports endangered language learning through software donated by Transparent Language. It 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. Doyon Foundation is the private foundation of Alaska Native regional corporation, Doyon, Limited.

For more information on the Doyon Languages Online project and upcoming course releases, please visit www.doyonfoundation.com or contact 907.459.2048 or foundation@doyon.com. For assistance signing up for or using Doyon Languages Online, view the instructional video series on YouTube.

ANA Language Revitalization Grant #: 90NL0626. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this publication, and all others associated with the Doyon Languages Online project, do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Administration for Children and Families, or the Administration for Native Americans.

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Juneby’s lessons get new life through Doyon Languages Online partnership

For years, the lessons created by the late Isaac Juneby to share the endangered Hän language were used by a small group of dedicated learners from homemade photocopies and audio replicas of the original booklet and CD. Now, the lessons are getting new life through a partnership with Doyon Foundation, Transparent Languages and its nonprofit 7000 Languages, and support of Juneby’s family and community.

Juneby, a respected Alaska Native leader and wise Elder, was born to Willie and Louise Juneby in Eagle Village, Alaska, in July 1941. He died in a tragic car accident in July 2012 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Isaac-thumbnail

Juneby was an early pioneer in the revitalization of Alaska Native languages, recognizing the need in the early 1990s. “He saw that we were losing the language, that young people didn’t know it. He was concerned about losing the language. It was important to him to write it, to get a book out,” shares his sister, Adeline Juneby Potts.

A fluent speaker of the Hän language, Juneby recorded the Hän language lessons in his Eagle dialect in 1994 with John Ritter of the Yukon Native Language Centre in Whitehorse, Yukon. The original tape of the lessons and accompanying booklet were made available in a limited run, but have long been out of circulation.

“He always contributed greatly with his deep knowledge of Hän language — and his great sense of humor. It was a joy to work with him, and such tragedy to lose him so suddenly a few years ago. Having these lessons out and available will enable his legacy to continue,” Ritter remarks. “The Doyon Foundation project breathed new life into teaching materials that had ‘sat on the shelf,’ unused and gathering dust, for quite some time. The new tools and formats enable this kind of resuscitation of still-valuable work from years ago.”

Juneby’s lessons are now available again, this time widely accessible to all interested learners online through Doyon Foundation’s Doyon Languages Online project. Doyon Languages Online is a partnership with 7000 Languages, a nonprofit that supports endangered language learning partially through software donated by Transparent Language.

“By posting Isaac’s language lessons in the Transparent Languages Online format, we hope to serve the needs of those wishing to advance their own speaking, listening and reading knowledge of the Hän language,” says Allan Hayton, director of Doyon Foundation’s language revitalization program.

“We dedicate this work to Isaac’s memory, knowing that our friend would be delighted to see his work available in a modern format,” Ritter adds.

The online lessons are based on Juneby’s original work with support from the Yukon Native Language Centre and the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The lessons are arranged in a seasonal activity format, September through June, but learners are free to access the material they are most interested in rather than follow a strict order. The lessons are now available via the Doyon Foundation website, and are free for all interested language learners to access.

“I hope that Isaac’s Hän language legacy embodied in these lessons will be enjoyed by all those interested in learning to speak and understand the ancestral language of the Hän Gwich’in of Eagle Village, Alaska,” says Juneby’s wife, Sandra Juneby.

The release of Juneby’s Hän language lessons offers a preview of the full Doyon Languages Online project, which is currently working to develop and release online language-learning lessons for nine of the 10 endangered languages of the Doyon region. The project is also working with Elder Ruth Ridley on another set of Hän language lessons.

“We are so honored to debut the Doyon Languages Online project with these very special lessons, and we are deeply grateful for the support of Isaac’s family and community,” says Doris Miller, Doyon Foundation executive director. “We hope these lessons will honor Isaac’s memory and carry forward his work to strengthen and share the Hän language with future generations.”

About Isaac Juneby

Juneby was born and raised in Eagle Village. He also spent time in the small, close-knit Hän community of people who lived and worked seasonally at Coal Creek and Woodchopper mining camps along the Yukon River. He attended grade school at Wrangell Institute and graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany. When Juneby returned home to Eagle Village, he was elected chief, making him the youngest leader ever elected to that position. Later he returned to school and earned a diploma at Sitting Bull College, and then a bachelor’s degree in rural development at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

During his lifetime, Juneby worked for a number of private, First Nations, federal and Alaska government organizations, always striving to help advance the cause of Native people. He was active in village tribal matters, subsistence issues, and hunting and fishing rights and management. He and his wife, Sandra, raised four children together, always maintaining their connection to the land.

In addition to recording the language lessons, Juneby worked with his own community and with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation in Dawson City to revitalize his language. He faithfully attended Hän literacy sessions at the Yukon Native Language Centre and in Dawson City.

About the Hän language

Hän is an Athabascan language spoken in the Alaska village of Eagle and in the Yukon Territory at Dawson City. A writing system was established in the 1970s, and considerable documentation has been carried out at the Alaska Native Language Center as well as at the

Yukon Native Language Centre. Hän is one of 47 languages in the Athabaskan language family, which is part of the larger Na-Dené family, and is most closely related to Gwich’in and Upper Tanana. The name of the language is derived from the name of the people, “Hän Hwëch’in,” which in the language means “people who live along the (Yukon) river.”

About Doyon Languages Online

Doyon Languages Online is a partnership between Doyon Foundation and 7000 Languages, a nonprofit that supports endangered language learning through software donated by Transparent Language.

The project is creating introductory online lessons for nine of the 10 of the endangered Doyon region languages: Holikachuk, Denaakk’e (Koyukon), Benhti Kenaga’ (Lower Tanana), Hän, Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in), Deg Xinag, Denak’i (Upper Kuskokwim), Nee’anděg’ (Tanacross) and Née’aaneegn’ (Upper Tanana). Additional goals include working with teachers in the Doyon region school districts to incorporate these courses into their lessons, field testing course utilization and effectiveness, and developing guides for dialects to develop their own courses.

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.

For more information

For more information on the Hän language lessons and the Doyon Languages Online project, please visit www.doyonfoundation.com or contact 907.459.2048 or foundation@doyon.com.

“I’m not just a language learner. I’m Deg Hit’an”

 

0Z1A6118 (1)A board member of Doyon, Limited and Doyon Foundation, Sonta Roach lives in her hometown of Shageluk where she’s a teacher in the Iditarod Area School District. She and her husband, Chevie Roach of Tok, have three children: Sydney, 7; Ryder, 5; and Emry, 4.

Sonta is the daughter of Rudy and Joyanne Hamilton of Shageluk. Her paternal grandparents are the late Adolph and Margaret Hamilton of Shageluk, and her maternal grandparents are Delores and the late Harlan Knauf of Bloomington, Minnesota. 

Sonta graduated from Mount Edgecumbe High School in Sitka and holds a bachelor’s degree in rural development from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS). Her language is Deg Xinag, a Northern Athabascan language.

Sonta believes learning her culture and learning her language are all one. She cherishes being on the land, hearing stories and practicing her language – “putting it all together,” she says.

“Returning home to Shageluk has been the best decision for our family, a gift to ourselves and to our kids,” Sonta says. “They’ll grow up comfortable on their lands and knowing who they are. I’m not just a language learner. I’m Deg Hit’an.”

IMG_4348Sonta considers herself a beginner, learning Deg Xinag alongside her students. (Deg Xinag, one of 10 languages spoken in the Doyon region, is the traditional language of the Deg Hit’an Athabascan in the Lower Yukon River villages of Shageluk, Anvik and Holy Cross. Grayling, another village in the Lower Yukon, speaks Holikachuk.) A college course at UAF and introductions to her language over the years in bilingual programs helped; teachers who’ve influenced her include Edna Deacon, Jim Dementi, Katherine Hamilton, Hannah Maillelle, Raymond Dutchman, Ellen Savage, Lucy Hamilton and Phillip Arrow, as well as her own parents and grandparents.

Most of those Elders have contributed to development of the Deg Xinag online learners dictionary. “I reference it constantly,” Sonta says. She believes that language revitalization is among her personal goals and responsibilities.

“I’m thankful to be learning, to be home, on the land, with my family and my students,” she says. “I see my work as a personal path toward understanding more about how my people viewed the world around them. Instead of being a ‘language champion,’ I see myself filling the shoes I was always meant to fill. I’d like to just continue on.”

IMG_3447She finds her students inspiring; some may go on to write children’s books or produce videos that extend the language learning community. “I have a few future linguists in my class,” Sonta says. “They see language learning as a priority, just as I do. I also see their love deepen for who they are.”

She’s grateful to Doyon Foundation – and all speakers and learners of Deg Xinag – for language revitalization efforts: “I encourage anyone to give language learning a try. Start small. Be easy on yourself.”

She advises starting a learning community with family members, finding resources and committing to practice. “Don’t be afraid of getting things wrong. Over time, you’ll realize the right sound.”

Lessons learned

Sonta relies on several techniques. “Think of a baby learning language,” she says. “Start with saying what things are and then move to commands and questions.” Other language-learning strategies include repetition, routine and daily practice; developing her own materials or adapting methods of others; and sharing her language with others.

IMG_2790Breaking free of self-doubt is key. Sonta believes that children who are told they’re mispronouncing Native language words may grow up thinking they can’t learn. “Since I told myself that I could learn – and that I could and should teach my own kids and the kids in my classroom – I’ve felt immense freedom,” she says.

Sonta uses her students’ morning routine to practice repetition that’s key to language learning. Daily topics like weather, counting, and saying and following instructions all lend themselves to learning Deg Xinag vocabulary. Physical education offers lots of opportunity as well. Carried out in Deg Xinag, childhood games like “Nanhdal, nanhdal, dits’in,” (“Duck, Duck, Goose”) and “Ghingligguk, Noghniy, Ghingligguk,” (“Run, Rabbit, Run”) are fun and efficient ways to practice pronunciation and vocabulary.

Sonta also combines language learning with classroom studies that focus on local activities such as dog mushing, cutting and drying fish, and gathering materials for birch baskets.

At home, she’s teaching her children the names of everyday objects. In the woods, she teaches names of resources like plants and animals. “For now, it’s purely noun identification and short questions in the language.” More conversational phrases will follow.

IMG_3458Being able to practice with language-learning materials, as well as learning alongside speakers and other students, is enriching for students at any level. But Sonta says that lack of access need not be a barrier to learning. Instead she advises learners to seek out opportunities on their own and not wait for a class to materialize.

“I have to create it for myself,” she says. She has made language learning a priority for herself, her family and her students. She’s grateful of the efforts of others, including Elders who contribute to online learning materials; staff at Iditarod Area School District who helped document the Deg Xinag language; and faculty like Alice Taff, a retired professor of Alaska Native Languages at UAS.

“I’m thankful that we have one another,” Sonta says.

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.