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Fort McPherson mourns Gwich'in language champion Eunice Ga'ahdoh-Mitchell

Gwich’in elder Eunice Ga'ahdoh-Mitchell, who championed the language for decades, died on Friday at the age of 95.

95-year-old was fluent speaker of Gwich’in language

Eunice Ga'ahdoh-Mitchell was born in 1920 at Nelson Fishery on the Peel River. She died Friday at the age of 95. (submitted by Eleanor Mitchell-Firth)

Gwich'in elder Eunice Ga'ahdoh-Mitchell, who championed the language for decades, died on Friday at the age of 95.

Ga'ahdoh-Mitchell was born in 1920 at Nelson Fishery on the Peel River, a place traditionally called Naghaii zhoo tshik, and most recently lived in Fort McPherson, N.W.T.

She was a fluent speaker of the Gwich'in language, and a historian for her people — sharing stories and language well into her senior years.

"I was adopted by her and my grandfather at the age of three and it was total immersion," says her daughter Eleanor Mitchell-Firth.

"Out in the bush I didn't know a word of Gwich'in. By the time we started school we didn't know very much English."

Some of Ga'ahdoh-Mitchell's children went on to become translators and teachers in the language, including Mitchell-Firth and Karen Mitchell, the host of CBC's Gwich'in language radio show, Nantaii.

Karen Mitchell told CBC last fall that she and her eight siblings grew up travelling by dog sled. She said her mother championed the Gwich'in language in their household, and at conferences and workshops.

"To keep the language alive at home... we weren't allowed to speak English. She wouldn't respond to us," she recalled.

Ga'ahdoh-Mitchell married and moved to Fort McPherson in 1942, where she met her friend Joanne Snowshoe.

Snowshoe remembers a woman who loved to laugh, play harmonica and compete in the Northern Games. She was also often the best dressed in the room.

"She had this long hair and she braided it. She had a ribbon tight on her hair," Snowshoe said.

"She always went to Aklavik, Inuvik or [Tuktoyaktuk] and she dressed really beautiful."

Ga'ahdoh-Mitchell's funeral will be held on Thursday in Fort McPherson.

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