Doyon Foundation’s new Native language Mentor-Apprentice Program (MAP) launched in August with the first gathering of mentor-apprentice teams. A total of 15 teams representing five languages came together at the Doyon Foundation office in Fairbanks for a two-day training and orientation on August 12 – 13, 2022.

“It was really incredible to have so many people, working toward the same cause, in one space. It was motivating to feel the energy and passion from the participants about why they want to revitalize their language and how they expect it to positively impact their and their families’ lives,” shared Lucy Miller, manager of the new Mentor-Apprentice Program.

The goal of the gathering was to provide mentor-apprentice teams with tools, training and community resources to prepare themselves for their one-year mentor-apprenticeships. Apprentices in the first MAP cohort are working with their mentors to learn Dinak’i (Upper Kuskokwim), Benhti Kokhut’ana Kenaga’ (Lower Tanana), Denaakk’e (Koyukon), Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in) and Dihthaad Xt’een Iin Aanděeg’ (Tanacross).

During the gathering, facilitators shared resources specially prepared for the program, discussed what to expect, and made suggestions for where to get ideas or seek assistance when teams need it. Participants also shared their own experiences with language learning, and were able to ask questions and express concerns.

“The engagement in the workshops showed that they were excited to learn and get started, and lots of the mentors and Elders shared how hopeful this program makes them for their languages,” Miller said.

MAP Gathering Takeaways

·       Scheduling is flexible as long as you meet your hour goals.

·       If you get in a rut with lesson planning, use the MAP resources or collaborate with other language groups to get ideas.

·       Mentors, be patient with your apprentices. Learning a language is not easy.

·       Apprentices should lead the mentor-apprenticeship.

·       Dene languages are different than English, so you need to get out of English ways of thinking. Don’t translate!

·       We are most successful when we move together as one.

·       By making recordings, apprentices will build a personal archive of language material that they can use to improve their learning and help others learn.

Teams will begin their mentor-apprenticeships this fall, with Doyon Foundation supporting teams with monthly check-ins. MAP teams will come together three more times during the one-year apprenticeship: in November, February and June.

A special thank you to the MAP gathering facilitators: LaVerne Xilegg Demientiff, Deg Hit’an, professor and chair of the Department of Social Work at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF); Susan Paskvan, Denaakk’e, recently retired as the Native language coordinator at Yukon-Koyukuk School District; Hishinlai’ Peter, Gwich’in, assistant professor of Gwich’in at UAF; Myles Creed, PhD candidate in linguistics at UVic; and Lucy Miller, program manager.

About the Mentor-Apprentice Program

Doyon Foundation received a grant from the Administration for Native Americans in 2021 to fund the Mentor-Apprentice Program. Through the program, mentors guide apprentices to become proficient speakers of Doyon region languages. At the end of the program, apprentices can give back to their language community as a mentor, instructor or lesson developer.

Learn more about the program and access MAP resources at or contact Lucy Miller, program manager, at or 907.459.2015.