An Indigenous language program will be presented at the Yukon celebrations
Until a few years ago, Abigail Turner knew few words in the language of her people.
Gùnèłchīsh — Thanks – was one of them. Now, she says, she can hold a simple conversation in Tlingit, and she feels a sense of connection and pride speaking the language with an elder and seeing their eyes light up.
Turner is one of the youth participating in the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN). “Language Leaders Tomorrow” program. On Thursday, the group performed a multilingual version of How the raven stole the sun at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Center in Whitehorse as part of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations Together today for our children of tomorrow.
“Learning Tlingit is like stepping into a completely different mindset,” she said.
“Like the word Gùnèłchīsh, it actually means more like ‘I wouldn’t have been able to get this without you,’ which I think just has a lot more depth and meaning.”
Speaking onstage with CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston, James Allen emphasized the importance of thanking the people who help you achieve your goals. Yukon University rector Allen said he is grateful to his mother and sisters for his ability to speak Southern Tutchone.
During his tenure as chief of Champagne and the Aishihik First Nations, Allen and the then council passed a Languages Act.
“We insisted on this in the hope that the language would be embedded in our organizations and in our First Nations government,” he said.
“Steve Smith came in [as Champagne and Aishihik chief] after that he created a two-year language course for adults in the community. I’m glad Steve took the next step after the Languages Act was passed.”
The first cohort of that class has now graduated, and three of those students happen to be working at the Shawkwunlee Daycare Center in Haines Junction, Yukon.
“And so they can share everything they learned in the adult immersion program with our wonderful children, ours dunènàsaid Erin Pauls, director of education for Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.
“I think the whole community is really proud. We hear parents talk about how proud they are that their children speak the language,” she said.
“And it forces them to start learning because they speak the language and come home and talk to their parents and their parents are like, ‘What are you saying?'”
Pauls – who also spoke at a panel in Whitehorse this week – says the daycare’s educators have put together packages for the children to take home so the learning can continue with their families.
“So it sort of seeped into the community and everything builds up,” Pauls said. “We’re seeing a positive ripple effect across our community for all the language learning that’s happening.”