Saskatchewan woman from the Clearwater River Dene Nation is reconnecting with her native language

Tanzy Janvier is beginning to think in Dene again and says the language is an important part of her identity.

Tanzy Janvier is beginning to think in Dene again, after losing fluency in the language

Tanzy Janvier is reconnecting with Dene, her native language. (Submitted by Tanzy Janvier)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

Tanzy Janvier's grandparents had their Dene language beaten out of them at residential schools.

Now, Janvier is reconnecting with her traditional language and hopes to help strengthen Dene within her community as well.

"We can continue to protect and keep our Dene language going strong with our younger generation," she said.

Janvier lives in Saskatoon and is heading into her fourth year of the Saskatchewan urban native teacher education program. She's originally from the Clearwater River Dene Nation near La Loche.

She said she lost her fluency in Dene after she moved to Saskatoon, where there aren't many people who speak it. She began to work on her Dene during the pandemic and found that she started to naturally think in her native language again.

"It's so important because it's who I am. My language is everything that I am as a person," she said.

When speaking with non-Indigenous friends lately, Janvier found herself speaking in Dene without realizing it and would have to switch back to English.

Janvier said that there are words in Dene with meanings that can't be fully expressed in English. She said being able to think in Dene again is a form of decolonization for her. When she thinks in Dene it's easier for her to follow Dene values and laws, compared to non-Indigenous values and laws.

Janvier is a generational residential school survivor. Her grandparents weren't allowed to speak Dene in school, and when they returned to their communities she said they felt ashamed of Dene and only spoke English. As a third-generation survivor, Janvier said she didn't have that sense of pride in language growing up.

"There is the revitalization for that, any language pride, that's happening nowadays," she said.

Janvier said that what happened at Kamloops has given her a new drive to learn her language, and that it's her goal to return to her reserve and join revitalization efforts to help strengthen it within her community.

"Once upon a time inside schools we were never allowed to speak Dene, but now we are, and we are doing everything that we can to make sure that we get it back to our children and that they are proud," she said.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.