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Hän-language childrens' book pays tribute to beloved Yukon elder

Georgette McLeod says the inspiration for her new Hän-language childrens' book was also the book's translator — Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation elder Percy Henry.

'Shëtsey' — or, 'My Grandpa' — was inspired, and translated, by Percy Henry of Dawson City

The cover illustration of 'Shëtsey,' a Hän-language childrens' book written by Georgette McLeod, a language administrator with the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in government in Dawson Ciiy, Yukon. Susan McCallum made the book's colourful illustrations. (Susan McCallum)

Georgette McLeod says the inspiration for her new Hän-language childrens' book was also the book's translator — Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation elder Percy Henry.

"He is one of our last Hän speakers in our community," said McLeod, a language administrator with the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in government in Dawson City, Yukon. 

"He's had this tremendous life, you know, and so I wanted to do something while he was still with us and still good and still strong, and also still sharing the language with us."

The book — Shëtsey (or, My Grandpa) — is just 16 pages long and it's geared toward pre-school or primary school children. It was funded by the First Nation's heritage department.

Each page depicts Grandpa — modelled on Henry — doing something he loves, such as cooking, drumming, hunting, trapping or laughing.

"And then he kind of finishes off by, like always, wanting to encourage the young people to learn. So he reads with them and he also tells them stories," McLeod said.

Grandpa tells a story: a page from 'Shëtsey.' (Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation/Susan McCallum)

The book features simple text in English and Hän, with colourful illustrations by Susan McCallum.

"We wanted to make it easy enough and repetitive enough for those young audiences to learn a story in the language," McLeod said.

She said Henry, 93, was a great subject, as he's lived such a long and eventful life. He was born on the Ogilvie River and grew up in the Blackstone River area as well as at Moosehide. He was a long-time chief of the First Nation and has long been involved in language initiatives in his community.

"He's a treasure," McLeod said.

Author Georgette McLeod says she wanted to make the book to honour elder Percy Henry 'while he was still with us and still good and still strong, and also still sharing the language with us.' (Submitted by Georgette McLeod)

"I wanted to do something that, you know, honoured that legacy, but also a fun story because he always enjoys fun."

The book is so far available only in Dawson City, McLeod says, but she hopes it will eventually be available elsewhere. It can also viewed on the First Nation's website

With files from Dave White

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