Keepers of the Language: 'If you don't use it, you lose it,' says Tlicho host

Cecilia Boyd, host of CBC's Tlicho-language program, almost lost her language after residential school. She was able to relearn it with the help of family.

After residential school, Cecilia Boyd almost lost her Tlicho language

Cecilia Boyd, host of Tide Gode, CBC's Tlicho-language program, says adults shouldn't be discouraged from learning their language, but it takes work. (Samantha Stuart Photography)

CBC is doing a series of stories to recognize that the United Nations has declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages. The observance is meant to raise awareness about the consequences of losing endangered languages, and to establish a link between language, development, peace and reconciliation.

Cecilia Boyd says when it comes to speaking another language, you either use it or you lose it.

"You have to practise it, as hard as it is," said Boyd, who has been hosting CBC North's Tlicho-language program, Tide Godi, since January.

She would know. Boyd nearly lost her language when she was young — and she isn't going to let that happen again.

Boyd, who is originally from outside Gameti, N.W.T., spoke only Tlicho when she was little.

"My family — my grandpa, my grandma, my aunt — we all spoke just Dogrib (Tlicho), until I went to a missionary school, residential school," she said.

Boyd went to residential schools in Fort Resolution, Fort Smith and Yellowknife. In residential school, she was forbidden from speaking her language. When Boyd came home, she couldn't understand what her parents and siblings were saying.

But she relearned Tlicho, because it was spoken all around her. Boyd credits her mother and grandmother for much of her re-education.

Teaching Tlicho is hard, too, said Boyd.

Boyd lost her language in residential school, but was able to relearn it later with the help of family. (Samantha Stuart Photography)

With three children and a non-Indigenous husband, passing on her language to her family amounted to "another full-time job," she said. It wasn't sustainable.

Boyd was able to impart them with some basics.

For her kids, it was daichi-le, which means, "don't touch it."  

"Because when you go visit … people have a coffee table with stuff on it, or something that does not belong to them, so that's why I told them daichi-le," she said.

Boyd taught her husband the words for "good morning," "good afternoon," "thank you," and different types of weather.

"I took my husband to Behchoko and he was so proud that he learned how to say, 'It's rainy,' 'It's cold,'" she said.

Don't be afraid. Don't be shy. Just say, 'If I make a mistake, that's OK.'- Cecilia Boyd

He did confuse her grandmother when he remarked on the sunny day by saying it was raining, but Boyd was pleased that he tried.

The easiest time to learn a language is in childhood, she said, but adults shouldn't be discouraged — it just takes work.

"Don't be afraid. Don't be shy. Just say, if I make a mistake that's OK," said Boyd.

"That's how you learn."