New generation of Yukon First Nations language speakers honoured alongside elders
In the lead-up to our virtual June Convocation 2021 (June 24-29) we'll be sharing stories from across our eight faculties about some of our amazing graduands. You can read more stories here. Be sure to share your convocation celebrations with the hashtag #MySFUGrad.
By Christine Lyons
In partnership with the Yukon Native Language Centre (YNLC) and the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN), Simon Fraser University’s Indigenous Languages Program (INLP) honoured eight graduates of the language proficiency certificate and 13 fluent speakers of Gwich'in, Hän, Kaska, Northern Tutchone, Southern Tutchone, Tagish, Lingít, and Upper Tanana, in a recognition ceremony on the territory of the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and the Kwanlin Dün First Nation.
In late May, and with COVID-19 protocols in place, the YNLC hosted a graduation and honour ceremony in-person for all eight grads and 12 of the fluent speakers at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. It was an emotional and poignant ceremony.
INLP Director and linguistics professor, Marianne Ignace and Council of Yukon First Nations’ Grand Chief Peter Johnston both congratulated the grads for their accomplishments and—as Ignace put it—for taking the “courageous and utterly important step to learn or even re-learn and reclaim your languages.”
Ignace said she was “deeply honoured” to spend three and half years working with many of the elders in attendance: “We are so pleased to honour 13 fluent speakers and elders who have given their time and energies to help the next generation learn and reclaim your languages and to become the torch-bearers into the future of your beautiful languages.”
Addressing the grads, Grand Chief Johnston said:
“In a time when most of our Yukon First Nations languages are in a critical state, this unique program is a key part of our vision to support the development of fluent Yukon First Nations language speakers.”
The Grand Chief expressed hope in his concluding remarks, encouraging grads "to embark on their own language learning journey. It will be through your efforts as leaders in our communities that we realize a new tomorrow for our children and families where knowledge of one’s traditional language is common and our languages flourish once again.”
“Dághą shäw níthän to äshäw that spoke only dän kʼè,” says Luke Campbell, a graduate and proficient speaker of Southern Tutchone. “Without [the teachers] dedication and the staff’s dedication I would not have increased my fluency of dän kʼè and finished the program.”
Skáyda.û, Tina Jules, director of the Yukon Native Language Centre, respectfully acknowledged the work of fluent speakers that have passed on and passionately says:
“What we have done here is precedent setting. These certificates honour our Elders’ fluency and their distinguished knowledge of their history and culture. It is our leaders, fluent speakers, language instructors, language staffs and families, that have made this such a wonderful day of happiness and pride for our graduates. Yak’éi aatlein yageeyí. It is a very great day. Gunałchéesh ldakát yeewhan. Gratitude to everyone.”
Indeed, with the programs accepting an influx of new students, the partnership and collective work between SFU, CYFN and YNLC will continue to have a powerfully positive impact on revitalizing and strengthening Yukon First Nation languages. And it is a model for partnerships between First Nations and Universities, working together to create a new generation of fluent speakers, carrying the language to future generations.
The students who have graduated with the certificate have completed the first step in a set of laddered credentials the SFU Indigenous Languages Program has developed. Following the Certificate, students will have the opportunity to complete the intermediate-advanced Diploma in Indigenous language proficiency, and both the Certificate and Diploma also ladder into SFU's new BA degree with a minor in Indigenous languages. SFU looks forward to working with CYFN and YNLC to partner in offering these credentials to students in the Yukon.
FULL LIST OF GRADS AND FLUENT SPEAKERS:
Sarah Si, Irene Johnny, Hän
Percy Henry, Hän
Gushàka, Grace Margaret Johnson, Northern Tutchone
Gah, Jocelyn Wolftail, Kaska
Khut'äla, Audrey Brown, Southern Tutchone
Nakhela, Hazel Bunbury, Southern Tutchone
Kaakligéi, Norman James, Lingít
Änji átà, Louie Smith, Northern Tutchone
Nancy Sterriah, Kaska
Da-maa, Lizzie Hall, Northern Tutchone
Anyalahash, Sam Johnston, Lingít
Marion Schafer, Gwich'in
Ta'mòh, Patrick Johnny, Upper Tanana
Hätrʼunohtän trʼày, Allison Anderson (Hän)
Lëjit, Georgette McCleod, Hän
Paul Caesar – Jules, Kaska
Gu'khawke't, Eileen Fields, Northern Tutchone
Luke Campbell, Southern Tutchone
Edarume'. Alyce Joe, Northern Tutchone
Gadzûsdà, Tahyah Van Bibber, Lingít
Shayawdustee, Pricilla Dawson, Southern Tutchone
To watch the full ceremony, hear the Elders speak and learn more about these graduates and fluent speakers, visit the YNLC website and read the 2021 Recognition Ceremony Program here.