Yukon First Nation harnesses power of social media to teach local language

With only two fluent Hän language speakers in Dawson City, a new video project aims to break down barriers to the language — one word at a time.

Tr’ondë​​​​​​​k Hwë​​​​​​​ch’in government brings language to a wider audience

A file photo of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation's Moosehide Gathering celebration just outside of Dawson City, Yukon. The First Nation has turned to the power of social media to learn and practice its Indigenous language. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

One Yukon First Nation has turned to the power of social media for people to learn and practice its Indigenous language. 

Since mid-July, the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in government in Dawson City, Yukon, has been publishing weekly videos on Facebook featuring Hän language words in an effort to increase access to the endangered language. 

The word "zho" meaning "house" is featured in the most recent video, published Aug. 5. The video takes a tour of some of the various buildings around the community, including the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre — which translates to "long time ago house."

Teaching Hän words for everyday things is meant to reduce barriers for people who want to start speaking some of the language, said Georgette McLeod, Hän language co-ordinator with the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in government.

The First Nation is using social media to teach the Hän language to a wider audience. (Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Government/Facebook)

"This is just like a stepping stone to get them into that place where they can start to feel comfortable about using language," said McLeod. "For so long, people have been so shamed about speaking their own language and, you know, that's part of the reason why the languages have become endangered — because it was outlawed in this country."

Watch the video: "The Hän language word of the week is: Zho"

With just two local elders who speak Hän fluently, McLeod and others have been working to create and provide language programs through Aboriginal Head Start, a preschool program, and at Robert Service School. The recent focus on social media videos aims to reach a wider audience.

McLeod said she is happy with how the video project has gone so far, and plans to continue working with local videographer Kerry Barber to produce more videos through the winter.

Written based on an interview by Leonard Linklater