#SpeakGwichinToMe: Using social media to reclaim language

Jacey Firth-Hagen has launched a social media campaign using the hashtag #SpeakGwichinToMe. "We don't have time to wait for another generation or so to really work on bringing the Gwich'in language back to being spoken more," says Firth-Hagen.

Social media campaign launched by 23-year-old Jacey Firth-Hagen

Jacey Firth-Hagen, left, put this photo of herself on her group's Facebook page, with the Gwich'in pronunciation for laughing and #SpeakGwichinToMe. (Gwich'in Language Revival Campaign/Facebook)
A Gwich'in woman is using social media to get people speaking one of the most endangered languages in Canada.

Although nearly 10,000 Gwich'in people live in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska, a United Nations study estimates just a few hundred fluent speakers of the Gwich'in language are left.

"We don't have time to wait for another generation or so to really work on bringing the Gwich'in language back to being spoken more," said 23-year-old Jacey Firth-Hagen.

Just over a year ago, she sparked a social media campaign called #SpeakGwichinToMe.

She was inspired by the efforts of the Sami — an Indigenous people from northern Europe who started a language campaign using hashtag #SpeakSamiToMe. They use Instagram and other social media apps to share photos captioned in the Sami language and translated into Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish languages. 

Photos captioned in the Gwich'in language, like this one posted by Ashton Semple, are posted to social media as part of the #SpeakGwichinToMe campaign. (Ashton Semple/Facebook)
Firth-Hagen, who currently lives in Yellowknife, now has a Facebook group called the Gwich'in Language Revival Campaign, where she and over 1,000 other members of that online community regularly post photos captioned in the Gwich'in language, or just share Gwich'in words and phrases.
Crystal Norris, who is Gwich'in, but lives in Regina, is one of those members.

"The thing that I do struggle with is the pronunciation because I'm not really anywhere near that can speak the language to me, but Jacey is quite helpful with how to pronounce things," Norris said.

The Gwich'in aren't the only indigenous group using social media to protect or revive their languages. 

In Nova Scotia, Savannah Simon has been using short Instagram videos to encourage others to speak Mi'kmaq for years now.

That has other Mi'kmaq people following suit, posting their own videos as well.

Scroll through Instagram, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, and you'll also find other languages being shared as well — like #SpeakTlichoToMe and #SpeakCree, to name just two.