In this Storyteller language profile, Ethel Beck, Bertha Ulvi and Bertha’s daughter, Karma Ulvi, join our language revitalization program director, Allan Hayton, via Zoom from Eagle to speak about their work with the Hän language. You can watch or listen to the full interview, or read a transcript, with minor edits for clarity.
Ethel was born September 6, 1942, in Eagle Village. Her parents are Susie and Louise Paul. In 1944, the family moved to a gold camp at Coal Creek and Woodchopper. The family lived in a little cabin at Snare Creek. When the Bureau of Indian Affairs re-opened the school in 1950 the family moved back to Eagle.
Ethel also attended Mount Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, Alaska. After graduation, she returned to Eagle, and worked at the general store. She later received training to work as a health aide. Ethel has two children: daughter, Joanne, and son, Tony. Joanne loves working with her Hän language, and hopes to see young people get interested and learn to speak their language.
Bertha, or “Bert” as many refer to her, was born August 7, 1944, in Eagle, Alaska. Her parents are Susie and Louise Paul.
Bertha spent her childhood in Coal Creek and Woodchopper before moving back to Eagle to for school. She later attended school at Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon. Bertha has called Eagle home her entire life, and has worked at the store, as a village health aide, and has served on the council for the Native Village of Eagle. She is always willing to help around the community.
Bertha raised two children: son, Peter Paul, and daughter, Karma Ulvi. Bertha enjoys teaching her language, but also learning to read and write in the language. She is always sharing the culture and way of life she grew up with, as well as her many arts and crafts.
Karma is a community health practitioner and chief of the village of Eagle, a community occupied for thousands of years by the Hän people on the south bank of the Yukon River near Canada. Karma is the daughter of Bertha Paul of Eagle and Dana Ulvi of Walnut Creek, California, and Eagle. Karma’s maternal grandparents are Susie Paul of Old Crow and Louise Paul of Eagle; her paternal grandparents are Milton and Patricia Ulvi of Walnut Creek, California.
As she pursues her commitment to the Hän language, Karma acknowledges the language revitalization efforts of her mother, Bertha, a member of the Eagle Village Council, and Ethel Beck and Ruth Ridley, who are Karma’s aunts.
ALLAN HAYTON: Juk drin gweezhree shalak, shijyaa naii. Mahsi’ choo nakhwaihjyaa nihthan. Juk drin dzaa Ethel Beck, ts’a’ Bertha Ulvi, ts’a’ Bertha viyeets’i’ Karma diihaa geelk’ii, ts’a’ sheechii diihaa geegiheekhyaa jidii digiginjik haa gwitr’it t’agogwah’in diihaa gogwahaandak, ts’a’ mahsi’ choo goovaihjyaa nihthan.
Very good day everyone, it’s good to see you. Today we have Ethel Beck, Bertha Ulvi and Bertha’s daughter, Karma, coming to us from Eagle. We’re here on Zoom and they’re going to share with us some of the work they’ve been doing with the Hän language.
We’re also here celebrating the publication of Doyon Languages Online course in the Hän language that Bertha and Ethel participated in, as well as others from Eagle, including Ruth Ridley, Adeline Juneby Potts and others. We’re very happy that this course has been published. I’d like to give them a chance to introduce themselves.
ETHEL BECK: Hello, I’m Ethel Beck and I live here in Eagle. Ethel Beck shǫzrèʼ.
BERTHA ULVI: Shǫzrèʼ Bertha Ulvi, Eagle tsʼänn jihchʼee. Juk drin Allan hèe trʼëdätrʼëtähʼyu’. I said, “My name is Bertha Ulvi. I live in Eagle, Alaska, and today we’re going to work with Allan.”
ALLAN HAYTON: Gwiinzii! Hǫzǫǫ! Good, good. Nan yu’, Karma? How about you, Karma?
KARMA ULVI: Karma Ulvi shǫzrè. My name is Karma Ulvi. I live here in Eagle.
ALLAN HAYTON: Ants’a’ chan Karma Eagle gokwaiik’it khehkwaii nilii ts’a’ łyaa … And Karma is the Chief of Eagle village, and truly I’m very happy to have you here, the chief of Eagle village, you have a very busy schedule. I thank you for making your time available. You do tribal administration so you have a lot of hats you wear in the village. You also work on different language projects, and we’ll get to talk about those.
I’d like to share the screen to have a little preview of the Doyon Languages Online course that’s coming out soon. We worked on it in 2018 – 2019, and now it’s finally coming out, so it’s been a good while, and it was largely due to the pandemic. It’s affected all of our communities and all of the work we do. Here’s the conversation Unit Two, Lesson two.
View video: https://youtu.be/Ywg7zRib2yQ
|A. Hello, shäjee.||A. Hello, my older sister.|
|B. Hello, shëjèww.||B. Hello, my younger sister.|
|A. Dä̀wnöö ?||A. Whatʼs the news?|
|B. Jàa Fairbanks, nihaa hǫzǫǫ.||B. Here in Fairbanks, we are fine.|
|A. Hǫzǫǫ! Jàa Eagle chąą nihaa hǫzǫǫ.||A. Good! Here in Eagle we are fine too.|
|B. Nitsǫǫ dä̀jįį ?||B. What is our grandmother doing?|
|A. Nitsǫǫ ä̀ʼnëtlʼùʼ.||A. Our grandmother is sewing.|
|B. Nitsěyy dä̀jįį ?||B. What is our grandfather doing?|
|A. Nitsèyy trät dähʼįį.||A. Our grandfather is getting wood.|
|B. Huwäjit hǫzǫǫ ?||B. Are they doing fine?|
|A. Ą̈hą̈̀ʼ, hùwäjit hǫzǫǫ.||A. Yes, they are doing fine.|
|B. Mäsį̀ʼ, huwaa shòo ìhłįį.||B. Thank you, I am happy for them|
|A. Shënchʼaa, huwaa shòo ìhłįį.||A. Me too, I am happy for them.|
|B. Kʼä̀hòdhät kʼìghàʼ hǫzǫǫ hëhwëdèyy.||B. By God(ʼs help), they are living fine.|
|A. Ą̈hą̈̀ʼ, tthʼeychaa hutʼèyy hònlįį.||A. Yes, they are still strong.|
ALLAN HAYTON: Ah, mahsi’. Thank you. Gosh, that was 2019. You were in Fairbanks and I remember that time we spent together working and had a lot of laughs and good conversation and recorded these videos and also some other lessons that were audio. I wanted to ask if you want to share a little bit about the Hän language and how you learned it and what it means to you.
ETHEL BECK: How I learned it, is I start speaking Hän as a child, as a baby.
BERTHA ULVI: In my family, we all had to learn as we were growing up, no other language was speaking in our home except our language, but sometime around non-Native we could speak a little English. But then my old grandma, she never speak English in her life. That’s all that we had. As kids, we had to learn our own language to speak to grandma.
ALLAN HAYTON: That’s really beautiful. Karma, would you like to share where you’re at with your learning?
KARMA ULVI: I’m just spending time with these ladies, working on language materials, and I consider myself a language learner. So I have a lot to learn, but I’m catching on how sentence structure and pronunciation is, so I’m starting to get how to speak more and words are becoming more familiar to me. So I’m still learning.
ALLAN HAYTON: That’s beautiful. So was this growing up in Eagle or was it in other places near there? Can you describe a little bit about what it was like growing up in that area?
BERTHA ULVI: We grew up mostly in the village, but summer time, my old grandma and grandpa had a fish camp like about a mile down river from Eagle city, so we spent most of our time down there because my dad was working at the mining camp. My mom, she takes us down and we help my grandma and grandpa cut fish. But all that time we always speak our own language.
ALLAN HAYTON: That’s really beautiful. And it’s very closely related to Gwichʼin as I understand. In fact, your grandparents on both sides are Gwichʼin as well?
BERTHA ULVI: Uh-huh.
ALLAN HAYTON: So you understand if I talk to you in Gwichʼin?
BERTHA ULVI: Yeah, my grandma would listen to your language and so we know her language good, too. Yeah, Grandma could speak our language and your language.
ALLAN HAYTON: That’s beautiful. Your Gwichʼin side, your family is connected to Old Crow?
BERTHA ULVI: Yes. Yeah, we were. We got cousins up there right now that’s on my dad’s side. That’s where my grandma and grandpa were from Old Crow. And my aunt Edith Josie, you heard about her, the famous old lady.
ALLAN HAYTON: Here are the news.
ETHEL BECK: Yeah, Old Crow News.
BERTHA ULVI: We also have family, Grandma Liza was from Fort McPherson, and then family in Mayo, Yukon Territory and Moosehide.
ALLAN HAYTON: So Eagle was kind of like a crossroads, people from different directions coming from down river or up river, and maybe the highway.
BERTHA ULVI: Yes. But we don’t get to see them much.
KARMA ULVI: Ethel said the highway was built probably in the 1950s.
ALLAN HAYTON: So just when you were little kids. That’s really nice.
KARMA ULVI: Yeah.
ALLAN HAYTON: I also found this other video that’s on YouTube. There was a linguist at the university, I was one of his cohort, we were working on our master’s degrees at the same time and he was focused on Hän language, his name was Jonathan Manker. He went on to get his PhD, I think, at Berkeley and also has been working at other universities. He did these really beautiful videos; I can share a little bit of them. Let’s go to Ethel.
View video: https://youtu.be/EeDpzAiG6XA
ALLAN HAYTON: It’s really a wonderful lesson about cutting fish and it makes you want summer to hurry up and get here, huh?
I’ll go over back to a little bit of Bertha’s video.
View video: https://youtu.be/QXDLR_ll2ls
ALLAN HAYTON: Makes me hungry. It’s a really wonderful lesson there about preparing food and right there cutting fish next to the river and you can see Eagle in the background or the mountain across the river there, and the setting of Eagle is so beautiful. I was really happy to have visited there in 2016, I think it was. My mom lived there for many years, and I had never gone there and I was just happy to be able to make the trip. We drove up with Ruth; she and I were driving and then there was a couple other vehicles also travelling with us and I really wanted to come back to Eagle. I understand you have a language workshop or culture camp this summer?
KARMA ULVI: Yes, we’re actually in the process, we’re getting ready to build the floors on our new buildings for the culture camp. We’re building a culture camp right down over here by the lake, and then in September, we have our annual corporation and village meetings. And then on the fourth, fifth and sixth, we’re gonna have our first language camp. For three days, in the mornings, we’ll learn the literacy side of the letters and how they sound and pronunciation. It’s pretty new in the planning stages, but we’ll let you know about what happens.
ALLAN HAYTON: That’s very good to hear. Maybe people will also come from Dawson, come across. You can even float down the river from there.
KARMA ULVI: Yeah, yeah. We’re also in the process of working on some language materials. We’re making flashcards and a pocket phrase book and working with Maura and Blake from UCLA on a textbook. So hopefully at our language class we’ll have materials to be able to teach.
ALLAN HAYTON: Awesome.
KARMA ULVI: And we can use the Hän language course program also.
ALLAN HAYTON: Yeah, the online course is available online for anyone who has internet, but it’s also downloadable. So it’s something that we thought was really good for Alaska, especially because in rural areas our internet is very slow and very expensive, too, but the course can be downloaded and just played wherever you’re at, without a wireless or wifi signal. So that’s very good. I’m very happy to see everyone today; it’s been a long time.
BERTHA ULVI: Well, you’ll come and join us in September.
ALLAN HAYTON: Oh yeah. I’ll head up the highway. It should still be open by then, that’s September?
BERTHA ULVI: It should be.
KARMA ULVI: Yeah.
ALLAN HAYTON: It doesn’t close till October, whenever the snow starts.
KARMA ULVI: The beginning of September is nice and sunny and the leaves are changing and it’s still pretty warm, so it should be nice.
BERTHA ULVI: You might get a moose.
ALLAN HAYTON: Oh yeah, that’s also moose season, that sounds good. I remember driving on the highway there and I saw some caribou that were just wandering down the road.
Is there anything else you’d like to share? Well, I appreciate all your time.
BERTHA ULVI: It’s good to see you again. We hope to see you again sometime, Allan. You come up and join us September.
ALLAN HAYTON: Yeah, I’ll bring Ruth. I’ll put her in the car and drive up.
KARMA ULVI: That would be good. We’re going to try to get Adeline and Ruth and these language speakers to work with Maura and Blake to teach the class and then Cheyenne and Jody and many of them to come.
BERTHA ULVI: We’ve got some people in Dawson, too, but I don’t know if they could come down.
ALLAN HAYTON: K’eegwaaadhat k’iighe’ juu naii datthak zhat gahaak’yaa. We just pray, God willing, that everyone makes it there and is able to have time together speaking Hän and sharing the language and learning. Well, I appreciate your time today and we’ll be sharing this interview with others on our website, so we’ll send you the link. And if nothing else, I just want to say mahsi’ choo, K’eegwaadhat nakhwaa’ooli’, gwiinzii adak’ootii, ants’a’ it’ee chan niiyut kwaa neenakhwahaal’yaa. Thank you, God be with you, take good care of yourselves, and I will see you all again soon.
BERTHA ULVI: Mahsi’, thank you. You too, God bless you.
KARMA ULVI: Mähsi’ choo, Allan.
ALLAN HAYTON: Talk soon.
We are pleased to highlight the efforts of individuals committed to the revitalization of our Native languages. If you would like to nominate an individual for our Storyteller language profile series, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 907.459.2048.