“When I’m learning my language, I feel like I’m finding myself and understanding who I am.”
Diloola Erickson’s parents are Susan Erickson from Kaltag and Arne Erickson from Tok. Her maternal grandparents are the late Irene and Alexander Solomon, Jr., of Kaltag. Her paternal grandparents are Joyce Erickson and the late John Erickson of Tok. Diloola’s language is Denaakk’e (Koyukon).
Born in Sitka, Diloola Erickson was raised in the Tlingit village of Hoonah in Southeast Alaska, where her favorite part of school was Tlingit class. And though she loved learning Tlingit, she remembers feeling that something was missing.
“I grew up so far from my culture that I always felt distant from it – I always had a longing to know more,” she says.
To help ensure that her 3-year-old daughter, Tsee’ołyeets, is immersed in her language and culture from an early age, Diloola is focused on becoming fluent in Denaakk’e, the language of the Athabascan people of the central Koyukuk and Yukon rivers.
Along with Dewey Hoffman, who works with language revitalization in Fairbanks, and University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) language instructor Lorraine David, Diloola co-hosts a weekly language-learning group at her home and has enrolled her daughter in a language-learning classroom at Fairbanks Native Association. She practices Denaakk’e with her daughter daily, using a Denaakk’e weather wheel and family name chart. “I want to pass on my language and culture so that she’ll always know who she is and where she comes from,” Diloola says.
A Doyon, Limited shareholder, Diloola’s commitment to Denaakk’e fluency deepened when she attended the Alaska Native Studies conference in 2017. It was at an intensive workshop facilitated by Dewey Hoffman that Diloola met Lorraine David, a fluent Denaakk’e speaker who inspired Diloola to start her language journey. Lorraine is a former Doyon Foundation board member and veteran language instructor at UAF.
“I was craving more sessions like that,” Diloola says, and Lorraine agreed to meet with Diloola and her group weekly. She often records their sessions and tries to listen daily to gain vocabulary and pronunciation.
“Lorraine is passionate about passing on our language. She has been one of the biggest supporters in my journey,” Diloola says.
A UAF student graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree in rural development and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Diloola plans to pursue work in positions that will allow her to help raise up Alaska Native people. She sees language revitalization as part of the efforts to create positive change in Alaska Native communities.
As a First Alaskans Institute summer intern at Doyon Foundation in 2017, Diloola contributed to the Doyon Languages Online team by developing multimedia materials promoting language revitalization in the Doyon region. The team’s favorites include stickers featuring beaded gloves conveying everyday phrases in Denaakk’e, like “Enee!” (“good!”). Familiar to any conference-goer, “Hello, my name is …” adhesive name tags were created by Diloola in each of the Doyon region languages. Name tags were available at school fairs throughout Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Diloola also helped lead a workshop at the 2017 First Alaskans Institute Elders & Youth Conference, “Taking Language Revitalization Online – Using GIFs to Get the Word Out.” Participants developed their own GIFs – a format that animates images to easily share them online – and brainstormed other forms of social media aimed at encouraging people to take join in language revitalization.
“Ultimately my goal is to use my education to uplift my culture and the Alaska Native community,” Diloola says. “Learning my language is the biggest part of learning who I am.”
As Doyon Foundation continues to grow our language revitalization efforts in the Doyon region, we are noticing a group of people who are committed and dedicating their own time to learning and perpetuating their ancestral language. We are pleased to share some of these “Language Champion” profiles with you. If you know a language champion, please nominate him or her by contacting our language program director at firstname.lastname@example.org. Language champions may also complete our profile questionnaire here. You may learn more about our language revitalization program on our website.