Here’s what you will find in our spring update:
Doyon Languages Online Project Gets Underway
The Doyon Languages Online (DLO) project got underway with a gathering of educators, speakers, and curriculum developers at Doyon Foundation on Saturday, February 18, 2017. Doyon Foundation Executive Director Doris Miller along with board president Lanien Livingston welcomed key representatives from five languages: Denaakk’e, Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in), Hän, Holikachuk, and Behnti Kenaga’.
The purpose of the meeting was to begin the first phase of a three-year project to create and post basic lessons online through partner 7000 Languages. 7000 Languages is a non-profit that connects endangered language communities with the technology to teach, learn, and revive their languages. The technology used in the DLO project is donated by Transparent Language. The open source platform will have the capacity to be continually modified and added to, ensuring it will be a valuable resource for learners for many generations to come. Ultimately, the project will include all languages in the Doyon region.
The day began with attendees introducing themselves in their own languages. Eliza Jones expressed that she was happy to be involved in the project, and that “working with my Denaakk’e language is nourishment for the soul.” As we finished the circle of introductions, Minto elder Sarah Silas said she loved hearing everyone speaking Athabascan language, and to her it sounded like “the most beautiful music, like all of the birds singing together and making the most amazing song.” She inspired the room with her warm comforting smile and gave everyone love and hope. Sarah shared that she was “so happy and proud that younger people were doing this good work.”
To familiarize everyone with the Transparent Language software, attendees broke into groups and recorded short conversations in their respective languages. This activity was instructive for everyone involved, and served as a “pilot demo” for the work ahead. These demos are available to preview at the end of this article.
The group enjoyed moose soup and fry bread for lunch, prepared by Doyon Foundation admin Sommer Stickman, and the crew at Doyon Facilities. After lunch Vera Weiser brought everyone back together with an uplifting song, “Onee’,” made by Evelyn Alexander as a prayer for a safe return of her granddaughter from firefighting in the Lower 48.
Sunday, February 19 was day two of the weekend workshop, and was a smaller group that focused on creating a template or “roadmap” for the 10 units of lessons in the project. Team members shared their ideas for creating “Day 1, Lesson 1” of the first unit. A development team will create a complete document for the 10 units by July, and this document will serve as a style guide for all five languages.
The DLO project strives to create a collaborative space for all team members to produce the best learning material possible. Doyon Foundation language committee member Rochelle Adams of Beaver stated, “I’m honored to do this good work for our people. I’m grateful to work alongside our elders and to connect with others that share the same passion and fire to put the breath back into our languages!”
David Engels of Minto added, “We are good Athabascans who travel and do not forget who we are, or where we come from.”
Darren Deacon of Kalskag has always loved languages, and has studied Russian and Japanese among other languages. His family teased him that he “loved to talk so much that he had to learn five different languages so he could talk some more.” This project will provide an opportunity for him to learn his Holikachuk language.
Language committee member and Holikachuk elder Elizabeth Keating felt that “It was special, heart-warming, hopeful, exciting and more. I especially enjoyed Darren’s enthusiasm for learning our language.”
Overall, it was a great weekend, and the group represented a model of collaboration that included elders, PhD-level professors, community members, and teachers that share a passion for the ancestral languages of our region.
Alexa Little, executive director of 7000 Languages, shared after the meeting, “We do a lot of our work over video conference, so it was a special experience for me to visit Alaska and meet the Doyon Languages Online team in person. I’m so excited watching this project take shape — it’s clear that everyone involved is extremely passionate about revitalizing these languages.”
Language Demos Now Available
Doyon Languages Online (DLO) is excited to announce our first series of demo lessons! These demos were created during the February 18 and 19 kick-off meeting, and provide short examples of what the DLO project is creating.
Test out demos of lessons in Denaakk’e, Holikachuk, Hän, Benhti Kenaga’, and Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in) by clicking on the icons below:
Presenting at the Alaska Native Studies Conference
The 2017 Alaska Native Studies Conference was held at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) April 7 – 9. Doyon Foundation staff Allan Hayton and Nathaniel Feemster presented at this year’s conference, sharing updates on the Doyon Languages Online (DLO) project.
Attendees at their presentation learned more about the DLO project, and were able to test out demos of lessons in Denaakk’e, Holikachuk, Hän, Benhti Kenaga’, and Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in). Allan also facilitated a Gwich’in language preconference session along with Caroline Tritt-Frank and Kenneth Frank, and co-presented on a panel for the Diiginjik K’yaa Ch’at’oh language nest.
The 2017 Alaska Native Studies Conference was an inspiring gathering of people, ideas, and hope for the future of our languages and cultures of the Doyon region and across the state. We look forward to the 2018 conference scheduled to be held in Juneau.
Collaborating on Language Revitalization
Doyon Languages Online (DLO) is a unique collaborative effort between five languages: Denaakk’e, Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in), Benhti Kenaga’, Hän, and Holikachuk. Due to the great distance between team members, collaboration takes place via technology such as Google Drive, email, video and teleconferencing.
We were fortunate to have everyone in the same room February 18 and 19, and we are aiming to host another gathering before July. The DLO project has held two more collaborative meetings (one on March 26 and one on April 23) via audio teleconference with the development team since the February 19 initial development meeting.
During these collaborative meetings, we share and discuss the material each language team has developed in the time between meetings. These meetings capitalize on the creativity and passion of each language team and allow them to work in conjunction, meaning that each language benefits from the work produced.
If you’d like to get involved in the Doyon Languages Online efforts to revitalize our Native languages, or want to learn more, please contact Allan Hayton at 907.459.2162 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Nathaniel Feemster at 907.459.2107 or email@example.com.