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.
“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.
“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.”
To learn more, visit https://www.ynlc.ca/