Tlingit language course connects Yukon and Alaska communities
'Language is going to be revitalized and come to life in our communities, not at the Language Centre'
Tlingit learners from Yukon and Alaska have wrapped up a three-week intensive course in the language.
This was the first time a Tlingit session had been brought to several communities, with classes held in Whitehorse, Teslin and Carcross. The initiative was organised by the Yukon Native Language Centre (YNLC).
Duane Gastant' Aucoin is executive councillor for the Teslin Tlingit Council and participated in the class. He said language preservation "can't be done in isolation."
"We're so lucky in Teslin to have the highest ratio of birth speakers within any Tlingit community," he said. "We have to share our wonderful birth speakers to help others out there."
YNLC director Tina Skáyda.û Jules said it was also the first time a Tlingit class had been taught at a beginner, intermediate and advanced level to help advance adult learners.
The centre has made a 2018-2021 strategic plan to revitalize Indigenous languages by expanding teaching out of Whitehorse.
"Language is going to be revitalized and come to life in our communities, not at the Language Centre," Jules said.
She said all parties shared costs, resources and responsibilities of hosting the course.
'It's a wonderful thing'
Bessie Kèyishí Cooley has been a Tlingit teacher and translator for many years.
"Sometimes you have to dig deep to remember the words they're asking you," she said of teaching adults. "It's just great being able to speak."
Jane Chukateen Smarch is another Tlingit teacher, from Teslin.
"It's a wonderful thing to be able to teach adults and not so many children all the time," she said with a laugh. "It's just amazing to see how far and how fast they can learn."
Charles Katinish.àwh Jules said it was his first formal language class.
"I never would have imagined I would have learned so much in such a short time," he said. "I say 'so much' — it's really just the tip of the iceberg."
'Anyone can learn our language'
The class also included speakers from Alaska. The teacher, Lance Xh'unei Twitchell, is a professor at the University of Alaska.
Participant Devlin Shaaǥaw Éesh Anderstrom is from the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe. He began to learn the language at a young age from his grandparents.
"One of the main things that I had to face early on is, it's almost like pain, I guess — because you have to face the fact that you don't know how to think in the Tlingit language at first," he said.
Anderstrom lived home after high school to learn Tlingit from his grandmother. Two years after he graduated, his grandmother died.
"I think anyone can learn our language... Because it was really just in the span of a few years that my gran was able to teach me," he said.
Jules said the students and teachers have asked to do this kind of class more often. Some also said they would like to do the classes on the land.
"The idea is to expand on what we're doing so that it's not just an event," she said. "Rather, it becomes a process."