Youth Today, Language Leaders Tomorrow

The Yukon Native Language Centre recently launched a new program to develop language proficiency among Yukon First Nations youth. Called “Youth Today: Language Leaders Tomorrow,” the initiative sees groups of students studying Southern Tutchone, Tlingit, Kaska, Hän and Northern Tutchone. There are 20 students, in total, in the program, with a small group designated to each of the five languages.

The Youth Today: Language Leaders Tomorrow program involves both classes and self-study periods for its students—or, as they call themselves, YTLLTs. Cory Holway, who studies the Southern Tutchone Language, said some of his favourite moments are those he gets to spend out on the land.

A new program through the Yukon Native Language Centre focuses on revitalizing traditional First Nations languages

“It’s really nice to connect with the nature,” he said. “We have been picking out certain words we want to learn from our time out in nature.”

Holway’s group consists of himself and six other students with whom he spends the majority of the time during his days of learning. The days start with a morning check-in, in which each of the language groups takes part, before they branch off separately. Holway said he has found a sense of community with his fellow language learners.

Yukon Native Language Centre (YNLC) to translate Robert Munsch books into Yukon First Nations Languages

The YNLC has launched a translation project that will produce limited editions of 20 Robert Munsch books in four different Yukon First Nations languages.

The project will involve working with language speakers and trainees to translate 20 books (by popular children’s author Robert Munsch) into Tlingit, Southern Tutchone, Kaska and Northern Tutchone. The project is funded by the Council of Yukon First Nations and the Community Development Fund.

The YNLC is leading the translation project in partnership with Carcross/Tagish First Nation, Kluane First Nation, Liard First Nation and Selkirk First Nation. This initiative will produce a total of 80 new Yukon First Nation language books and will help to make Yukon First Nations languages a part of early learning throughout the Yukon.

This project also involves a training component for transcribers. Working closely with fluent speakers, trainees will play an integral role in developing practical translation and transcription skills.

This capacity-building opportunity will continue to empower Yukon First Nations to tell stories and to contribute to intergenerational knowledge transfer through storytelling. Once completed, the translated books will be printed and distributed among project partners and Yukon First Nations. The project is anticipated to be complete in fall 2022. 

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“It feels like we’re going to have a lifelong partnership, all of us,” he said. “We all think alike, and we all are working towards the same cause, which is language revitalization in the Yukon.”

The YTLLTs have their sights set on some longer-term goals where language revitalization is concerned. Holway believes the school curriculum should incorporate more education on the Yukon’s First Nations peoples, including a focus on languages.

YTLLTs in a Zoom meeting

“I grew up just going to public school, and I never really got to learn about my family’s culture,” he said. “I feel like it’s only fair to Yukon First Nations who have lived here, for so many thousands of years, that the kids who grow up in the Yukon learn about the people who were originally here.”

In learning about his culture and where his family came from through his program, Holway said he is also learning more about himself. There are challenging parts to the program for him, particularly having to deal with the depressing thought of what his ancestors have had to go through, as he puts it. Despite the emotional difficulty of learning some of his program’s subject material, Holway still feels motivated to work towards a better future and not take for granted the opportunity he has, to play a part in revitalizing his language.

“My Elders have worked so hard to keep our language alive so we can still be learning it,” he said.

Holway’s present goals, within his studies, include showing his teachers how much effort he is putting in and making sure he gives his best every day and learns as much as he can. He also wants to keep using his language outside of his studies, with his family. Though he still sometimes feels shy to use his language outside of the program, he sees it as a crucial part of the community he and his fellow YTLLTs are building amongst themselves.

“It makes me feel really happy when I get in to work and we’re all talking to each other,” said Holway. “We try and talk to each other in our language as much as we can.”

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