Last week a youth group from the Council of Yukon First Nations’ (CYFN) “Language Leaders Tomorrow” program. performed a multilingual version of How the Raven Stole the Sun at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow.
The event hosted speakers from the Yukon University and First Nation councils, discussing and celebrating linguistic and cultural milestones reached by the Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow movement and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Language Act.
One of the story performers and group participants Abigail Turner has learned to speak her peoples’ language Tlingit. She credits her language learning experience with a deep sense of connection to her elders and pride in her heritage “Learning Tlingit, it’s like entering a completely different thought-world,” she said.
Discussing the word Gùnèłchīsh – the Tlingit word for thank you, she added “It actually translates more along the lines of, ‘I would not have been able to obtain this without you,’ which I think just carries a lot more depth and meaning.”
An on-stage conversation with CYFN Grand Chief Peter Johnston saw James Allen, Chancellor of Yukon University, emphasize the importance of family and community support in Indigenous language preservation. He personally thanked his mother and sister for his ability to speak Southern Tutchone.
In Allen’s time as chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, he and his council passed a groundbreaking Language Act, pioneering a protective policy to revitalize the Southern Tutchone language. Called the ‘Dakwanje Language Act’ it was the first of its kind among Canadian self-governing First Nations and was formally passed into law on July 11 2014, during the CAFN general assembly.
The Youth Today: Language Leaders Tomorrow program, was launched in 2021 by the Council of Yukon First Nations and is paying groups of Indigenous young people to learn the languages of their heritage. The goal – a simple one, is to keep Indigenous Languages alive, and focuses on teaching groups of 20 youths at a time, over the course of a year.
Shadelle Chambers, executive director of the council of Yukon First Nations, explained that the program was created to mentor a new generation of language leaders. “I think it is the best practice in language revitalization to focus and target programs at young parents or parents-to-be,” she said.
The course focuses on the languages of Southern Tutchone, Tlingit, Kaska, Northern Tutchone and Hän, with history and cultural classes in addition to language learning.
Sending a ripple effect of positivity through the community, the program has been deemed a grand success after the graduation of its first group of students. Erin Pauls, the education director for the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations said ““I think the whole community is really proud. We hear parents talking about how proud they are of their children speaking the language”.