N.W.T. community to offer kindergarten in Tlicho language

This fall, kindergarten classes in Behchoko, N.W.T., will be offered entirely in the Tlicho language.

First time program is available in 20 years

Mary Adele Mackenzie is going to enrol her child in the new Tlicho Yati kindergarten. She said she wishes the program had been available five years ago as well so that her 10-year-old could have enrolled. (CBC)

This fall, kindergarten classes in Behchoko, N.W.T., will be offered entirely in the Tlicho language.

This is the first time parents will be able to choose whether to enroll their children in an English or Tlicho immersion class.

Rita Mueller is the CEO of the Tlicho Community Services Agency.

"The advantage for children is to be really grounded in knowing where they come from and being able to learn the language so they can speak to elders and their grandparents and aunties and uncles whose first language has always been Tlicho," she said.

About 50 interested parents and community members went to a meeting about the new option Tuesday night at the Elizabeth Mackenzie school.

There, 17 children were enrolled in kindergarten, and 15 of them in the new Tlicho program.

Mary Adele Mackenzie enrolled her son in the Tlicho Yati kindergarten class. She said she wishes it had been offered five years ago when her 10-year-old son was in kindergarten.

"Before he started preschool and kindergarten he spoke only Tlicho, fluently. And after he started preschool he didn't speak Tlicho and then when he went to kindergarten he didn't speak Tlicho.  And now he speaks mostly English," said Mackenzie.

The maximum number of students which can currently be handled in the immersion program is 15. However, the Tlicho Community Services Agency said that if there is enough interest, they could add a second class.

An English-language kindergarten class will still be offered.

Mueller said it would be a dream to be able to expand the program all the way to post-secondary education but recognizes the resources just don't exist at this time for that to happen.

Not all parents happy about new option

But not all Tlicho parents and teachers are convinced of the new program’s benefits.

While no one would speak against the new program publicly, some did express concerns.

One parent, who is Tlicho and speaks the language, said he will not be choosing the immersion program for his daughter.

He worries she will fall behind and not have the same opportunities as English-language students if her schooling is done only in Tlicho.

And while the program is only for kindergarten students, he said he worries it will be expanded to include higher grades.