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Gwich'in elder learns video call technology to continue teaching language at a distance

Gwich’in language classes are continuing between provinces and territories through Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic.

People log on from Edmonton, Whitehorse, Yellowknife and beyond to participate in the lessons

Agnes Mitchell, Gwich'in elder, teacher, mentor with Crystal Fraser's daughter Quinn, when she was 3-years-old. Quinn has been learning the language for three years now. (submitted by Crystal Fraser)

Gwich'in language classes are continuing between provinces and territories through Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Crystal Fraser began learning Gwich'in in 2018 with her daughter Quinn, who is now five-years-old.

"About three years ago when when she started talking, I had this sudden realization that this is really the best time to teach her our our language," said Fraser.

"I had been interested in our language for a long time, but was not was not a speaker at all."

She reached out to her cousin Agnes Mitchell, who began teaching them the language.

Quinn has been learning every day Gwich'in words since she was 3-years-old. (Submitted by Crystal Fraser)

Mitchell is a Gwich'in teacher, elder and mentor who has been teaching her traditional language for a while, and has now adapted to teaching on weekly online sessions through Zoom.

It took a bit of getting used to and some help from Fraser to get started on the technology, but now they have become reunions she looks forward to.

"With COVID-19 happening … I couldn't go home to do my traditional activities. So I really look forward to these sessions because I can see my people," she said.

A pre-pandemic language lesson during a fish camp at the Mackenzie River. From left to right: Alestine Andre, Eliza Andre (Agnes’ daughter in corner), Agnes Mitchell (blue shirt), Megan Fraser (Crystal Fraser's sister). (Submitted by Crystal Fraser)

People log on from Edmonton, Whitehorse, Yellowknife and beyond to participate in the lessons and conversations.

Mitchell says they have an exchange of dialogue and lessons, where they all work together to learn and remember words.

"I love hearing the language," said Mitchell. "And a lot of times we come up with words that we haven't heard for a long time."

Fraser said that she and Quinn are still working to learn more, as it can be difficult to balance the lessons with a busy life.

"I will say that we focus on a lot of everyday words. And so some of the words that the group has come up with are quite fun," said Fraser.

"Now that she's five years old, we have a great basis of words, but we're still learning new things all the time in in our group."

Crystal Fraser at her family's fish camp, Dachan Choo Gę̀hnjik (Tree River), on the Mackenzie River. Fraser has been learning more about the Gwich'in language for the past three years. (Submitted by Megan Fraser)

with files from Jenna Dulewich and Loren McGinnis

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