In this Storyteller language profile, our language revitalization program director, Allan Hayton, speaks with Doyon Foundation alumna, Lingit language teacher and Denaakk’e language learner, Anna Clock. Watch, read or listen to Anna’s interview below!
ALLAN HAYTON: Van gwiinzii, everyone, we’re very happy to have you here with us today and to hear from our guest this morning, Anna Clock. I’d just like to say welcome. Would you like to share any introductions or something about yourself?
ANNA CLOCK: Enaa maasee’. Anna Clock se’ooze, dehoon Denaakk’e hełde Nelaatoh seeznee. Ggaał Doh hʉt’aan eslaanh. Medzeyh tuh hut’aana. Denaakk’e hedohudage’eeh. Hi, I’m Anna Clock. My family is from Kaltag and we’re Caribou clan, and I’m learning Denaakk’e.
ALLAN HAYTON: Great, awesome. So tell about your educational journey. You’ve graduated with a certificate in teaching Alaska Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS). Why did you choose that field of study?
ANNA CLOCK: That’s a good question and it’s been such a long journey. I basically graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 2009 from Middlebury College. At that time, I already loved languages, and I graduated with a BA in Japanese. And then the recession hit from the subprime housing loan crash. I went into the service industry, I worked on boats, and I kind of took this eight-year journey of just paying off my student loans, establishing myself in the maritime industry, and eventually came around to going back to school. So even though I had a bachelor’s degree, when I turned 30, I moved to Juneau, that was 2017. I enrolled in the outdoor studies certificate program on the condition that I could also study Lingit in the Alaska Native studies program. Even though I’m not heritage Lingit, that set me off on this five-year journey of learning Lingit and then eventually studying to become a teacher. So the certificate program at UAS is really awesome. It’s new, it’s a one-year teaching certificate in teaching Indigenous languages. The designers of the program had an overarching goal for this certificate to be applicable to any Native language, kind of infusing pedagogy and methodologies that uplift who we are as Native people and that relate to the way that we learned from our grandparents and our parents and our aunties and uncles. So now I teach Lingit. I graduated this spring and did a summer internship. I worked briefly at Haa Yoo X̲ʼatángi Kúdi, which is Lingit for Our Language Nest, and now I teach two classes a week.
ALLAN HAYTON: Wow, that’s really awesome. Have you noticed any similarities between Lingit and Denaakk’e?
ANNA CLOCK: Kind of. I am still learning Denaakk’e. I would say I’ve learned more Lingit than I have Denaakk’e so far.
ALLAN HAYTON: Wow.
ANNA CLOCK: But something I learnt in my studies is that both Lingit and Denaakk’e belong to the Na Dena language family. What that means is that there’s a lot of similarities in grammar. You’ll have a verb root that has a specific meaning and then a string of prefixes that give it more specific meaning. I still want to take that class at UAF for Athabascan grammar, but I think that grammar and the way verbs work are pretty similar.
ALLAN HAYTON: I noticed that, too, when I was living in Southeast, you pick up on some of their words, like for rabbit, gax. It’s almost the same word.
ANNA CLOCK: Yeah, it is, in Denaakk’e too.
ALLAN HAYTON: And then also the word for land in Lingit, you say aan. And we say nan. You can kind of see the similarity there. I think it’s nen in Denaakk’e, but I think you can see that there is a relationship between the languages and the history there. So that’s great.
ANNA CLOCK: Then there’s loan words too. So in Lingit, they refer to caribou as wudzix, and I think that’s a loan word from Athabascan languages. So Lower Yukon Denaakk’e would be bedzeyh, and it sounds pretty similar.
ALLAN HAYTON: Gwich’in we say vadzaih. So when and how did you first become involved with the Native languages in the Doyon region?
ANNA CLOCK: I would say my first exposure to Denaakk’e was probably in my early 20s. Well, that’s not true. Ever since I was little, my dad would say this to me if I made a mistake: He would say “Miss Mesnee’eehu.” And that means: “I tried to tell you but you wouldn’t listen.” So that’s always been a joke between us because he loves to say that to me in my learning moments. But when I went to Kaltag for my uncle Mike’s stickdance in 2012, I started learning our songs at the potlatch, and that was my first time reading along, we had printed song lyrics, and trying to make the sounds and make that association. And more formally, I would say in the spring of 2019, Kkołeyo (Dewey Hoffman) sent me an email about Doyon Foundation’s teacher education program, and I was so grateful because I was just hungry for learning our language at that time and here they came out with this program to fund so many contractors to basically learn how to teach. And what I loved about that program was that it helped us break out of our boxes between “I’m a student” and “I’m a teacher,” which I think I grew up with a pretty rigid parameter of my idea of what role. So what I liked about that is that even though I was a beginning Denaakk’e learner, they taught me how to host my own language learning circle and it was all about community learning, how to learn together and host a space where people feel comfortable putting themselves out there and learning. So that was huge. And then the other most important thing I learned during that training was how to do distance delivery and it just so happened that COVID hit that same spring and we had to transition to fully distance learning because of that, and for me it was like I couldn’t be luckier that they’re already teaching us how to host a space on Zoom, and then it turned into a seamless thing. So that was huge for me.
ALLAN HAYTON: I remember the post we shared about you and your brother learning. I think that’s how it happens; it could be two people, it could be a small group, three or four people, but those little pockets where our languages are learned and spoken and passed on. I think that’s really important.
ANNA CLOCK: That was a huge lesson for me, too, and that actually helped me in my language studies with Lingit, moving on from like don’t let your idea of how big it needs to be, don’t let that inhibit you and don’t get in your own way. When I was in the scholarship program for Lingit, sometimes you just had to find one person that was willing to study with you and go through the process. How do you study an audio recording? How do you transcribe it? How do you translate it? And so being comfortable with, okay, I’m going to meet with just one person and we’re going to call this a language class or a language lesson, that was really helpful too.
ALLAN HAYTON: So since you’ve graduated, you moved up to Anchorage, left Juneau. What are you doing now in Anchorage?
ANNA CLOCK: I had moved down to Juneau for the scholarship program and I loved it so much, but I got so homesick because Juneau, you have to drive through another country or take a boat or a plane, so it was hard for me to be able to come back and see my family. Long story short, when my program ended, I decided it’s time for me to go home. I had a new baby nephew that was born. It was kind of scary because without really having any work lined up, and knowing how expensive it is to move in and out of Juneau, I just booked a ferry ticket. I got on the waiting list and when they told me it was open, I pulled the trigger on it because I just had a gut feeling I need to be closer to my family, I need to be closer to home. So I took the ferry across the gulf to Whittier, landed in Whittier, drove to Anchorage and had no job lined up. I had interviewed for a job, I had some prospects but I hadn’t heard back from them, and then I got an email from the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska offering me a really good teaching job and I said, “Can I do it from Anchorage?” And they said, “Yeah, it’s online, so you can teach from anywhere.” So it turned out to be such a good job and there’s this really awesome Lingit Elder that lives in Anchorage named Shirley Kendall Shaax’ saani Keek and she is both a fluent birth speaker of Lingit and a lifelong professional teacher. She retired from teaching Lingit at UAA. So Lingit and Haida said that I could partner with her to co-teach the class. She and I get together weekly, we do our lesson planning, we teach the class together, we take care of all our logistics together, and we get to spend time together. So I love it because I learn so much from her, both language, how to teach, how to plan lessons, and then we get to spend that time together. So it’s kind of a dream come true for me. It pays well, but it’s not quite enough hours for me to foot all my bills for the month so luckily I also received an email from Ḵálaa Miriah Twitchell at Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, also based in Juneau, and she said we have needs for transcription and translation of videos, we need somebody to mentor our youth group and create some content, so I work for them. Then I have a third contract with another really awesome organization based in Juneau and it’s called Haa Tóoch Lichéesh and it works to support women and create safe spaces for people who have been in unfortunate situations. They fund a community class every Friday morning and they make that instruction free and online and available to the public. So I feel really lucky that even having moved back to Anchorage, I got to do so much important networking and meet so many good people that collaborate on the language movement that I’m able to work full time teaching and supporting the Lingit language right now. It’s just awesome.
ALLAN HAYTON: Yeah, that’s really great and you have this experienced teacher who’s fluent in the language and it’s like being mentored. I guess it also shows that a language teacher never retires.
ANNA CLOCK: Yeah.
ALLAN HAYTON: You’re always drawn back into it. It is very rewarding and fulfilling to be able to pass on these languages. So what other activities in the community do you enjoy?
ANNA CLOCK: I really wanted to join a gym because in Anchorage the months of October to December are pretty cold and dark and there’s no snow on the ground yet so you can’t really ski or snowboard. So I wanted to join a gym, but I wanted to do something that was fun, whether it’s a game or I’m learning a skill, and I ended up joining Rumble Boxing, and it’s so much fun.
ALLAN HAYTON: Wow.
ANNA CLOCK: Yeah, I love it. I never boxed before, but that’s Rumble Boxing’s whole thing is you can join with zero experience. You’ll do your conditioning, you’ll practice on a bag, you don’t spar or anything like that, but I go there twice a week at 6 a.m. and they play like really fun music and it’s kind of like club music and you practice your combos and you practice your punches and I leave dripping sweat and just like feeling relaxed. I’m like whoa, that was like a workout and therapy at the same time! So that’s my new thing, I love, I just I enjoy it a lot. It’s a fun community and it’s just like a fun way to work out.
ALLAN HAYTON: That’s great. So what’s been your biggest challenge in your educational journey, and how did you overcome it?
ANNA CLOCK: I would say people got me through my biggest challenges and continue to get me through. When I first moved to Juneau, I was pretty lonely. It was like the middle of the pandemic, middle of the winter, and I took the ferry down in rough seas, so I got there tired and lonely. But I ran into Tony Mallott, and I had known her previously from having worked in Byron Mallott’s office when he was Lieutenant Governor, and Tony totally took me under her wing. She was essentially my adopted host mom the whole time I was in Juneau and I’m so grateful for her because I would be busy, just like nose to the grindstone, working morning through night sometimes, and if she didn’t hear from me for like a week, she would just text me and be like, “Are you okay? Where are you?” And we lived five minutes down the road from each other, so it was just really nice. She would invite me to her place and to her sons’ places for dinner, and they would just make me feel like family, and that was really special. I think that was what got me through the hardest parts.
ALLAN HAYTON: I remember when I moved to Juneau, I was the same way. I didn’t know anyone there and I was lucky to have lived with a family, Anita Lafferty from Hoonah and her mom, Ida Kadashan. Her brothers and sisters would come by and the whole family would cook almost every day. There were all these Lingit foods and I just got to try a lot of different things. You’ll find, too, there’s those Athabascans that have found their way down Southeast. That connection was there.
ANNA CLOCK: Yeah, there’s a lot of us and it’s nice to have that home-cooked meal and feel like you’re home, home away from home.
ALLAN HAYTON: So do you expect to continue your education journey? Like are there other plans for additional degrees?
ANNA CLOCK: That’s such a good question because while I was in Juneau for the certificate program, I started working toward my master’s in rural development through UAF. I really liked it and wanted to continue. Unfortunately, I had to pause it because at one of the semesters, I couldn’t find a class that didn’t conflict with my required classes for the scholarships. So that’s why I had to put a pause on my degree. I do want to earn a master’s degree, but lately I’ve been trying to think creatively about how can I align … it’s a community need, people in a community want to learn their language, but I’m in a position now where I’m working on contract to support different language projects and it’s really fun but it can be a little stressful because you need to be on top of it. You need to take care of your administrative tasks, and you need to get enough hours in to pay your bills. So sometimes I wonder how could I combine this with another degree that meets another community need? Housing or behavioral health counseling, something like that, or business management. I’ve been trying to think ahead about what kind of other graduate degree might help me sustain my language teaching passion.
ALLAN HAYTON: There’s definitely connections to draw between language and wellness and healing as well as the business aspect. I think that’s important to learn about and be able to operate a tight ship.
ANNA CLOCK: That’s so true. Yeah and the healing journey part has been essential to my language learning, because you’ve got to have self-esteem to learn language and to show up to spaces wanting to improve. At some point I found that to be a little bit of a barrier for me where I just wanted to show up looking like I knew the language, and if someone corrected me, maybe I didn’t take it that well, and then I had to kind of rethink the way I was looking at it and being like okay, I need to change something in my own habits, in the way I think and talk to myself so that when I show to these immersion spaces I show up wanting to learn something, and I am like happy to receive criticism and feedback. So that’s just one small way out of the many ways that, for me, my own personal healing journey and my own self-esteem journey has been important to my language path.
ALLAN HAYTON: So through your educational journey you’ve received support from Doyon Foundation? What has that support meant to you?
ANNA CLOCK: It meant a lot because, so the scholarship that Sealaska Heritage funded us is a full scholarship, so it covered our tuition, our school supplies, as well as a housing stipend, and so that’s a very generous scholarship. That being said, you’re still a student full time and you’re still living on a tight budget, so for me to be able to reach out to Doyon Foundation, even though I wasn’t working toward a Doyon region language, and have their support, for me it just felt like “here, we’re here for you, we’re supporting your goal.” One of my long-term goals is to help continue uplifting the positive relationships that have been made between the Interior and Southeast regions, so for me that was a very concrete way that Doyon Foundation contributed to that in my own development.
ALLAN HAYTON: I, too, received support from Doyon Foundation. I might have been among the first scholarship recipients in 1989, I was in college at that point. I also received support through my master’s. It means a lot, especially when you’re younger, feeling isolated, you’re far away, and it’s that connection to home too.
ANNA CLOCK: Yeah.
ALLAN HAYTON: Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for students today or those interested in learning or teaching Native language?
ANNA CLOCK: I think if you’re young and you’re thinking about learning and teaching Native language, I would just say go for it because when I started learning, I was a young adult. I knew that I loved languages, I had studied Spanish and Arabic and Japanese, but when I told people that were close to me I’m thinking I want to do this full time, like I want to combine my passion for languages with my desire to give back to my community through Native language revitalization, at that time, people would say, “That’s awesome, but how are you going to make a living doing that?” I’m just really grateful that Doyon Foundation, UAS, X̱’unei, Sealaska Heritage Institute have created spaces where you can at least pay your bills while dedicating yourself to your language study. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something you do late at night that costs you a lot of money, that’s after a long day of work. Organizations such as yourselves are finding ways to integrate it into our workday and our daily life, so I think the best thing youth can do is take advantage of that and just keep pursuing it and asking for the next level. I see young people today that inspire me. They’re comfortable talking about issues like blood quantum, about race and heritage dynamics. They’re comfortable talking about social justice and work ethics and all kinds of things that maybe my generation didn’t feel comfortable or feel like we had the words. I’m just inspired by youth today because a lot of them seem like they found their voice, and so I would just say keep going with it.
ALLAN HAYTON: Awesome, yeah. There’s a whole world there that opens up to you as you study the language and understand how our ancestors viewed the world and managed to survive and thrive and be successful on the land, and I think a lot of that is embedded in our languages. It’s really something to discover that.
ANNA CLOCK: Yeah.
ALLAN HAYTON: Do you have a favorite word, phrase or quote you’d like to share? We could hopefully use this as the Native word of the month.
ANNA CLOCK: Okay, I like words that make me practice, that I have to practice for a long time before I can say it. And one of them was edeghoyeneeghaalʉhdeneek. In Denaakk’e, that means “you take care of yourselves.” I learnt that during our spring training with Doyon Foundation. And when I heard it, I had to practice it, I couldn’t just stay it right away. I remember being on a walk and doing it piece by piece, edeghoyeneeghaalʉhdeneek. I would have to do it rhythmically to get it. I like words that are like that, that you kind of have to practice over and over again and slow way down. I think that’s my favorite Denaakk’e word that I know so far: edeghoyeneeghaalʉhdeneek.
ALLAN HAYTON: That’s beautiful. I could hear the reflexive part in there. In Gwich’in, we’d say adak’aantiiif, take care of yourself.
ANNA CLOCK: That’s awesome. Yeah, I want to get to that level. I’m still at a point in Denaakk’e learning where I’m … I start every language this way … where I just repeat phrases that I hear. But it’s cool as I progress, to start to be able to break down the parts, so that’s really cool to hear.
ALLAN HAYTON: Morphology, each syllable has a different contribution to the whole meaning.
ANNA CLOCK: Yeah.
ALLAN HAYTON: Anything else you’d like to share with us today?
ANNA CLOCK: Just that I really love language learning. I love teaching language and that’s where I’m at right now is like “okay, I can do this, I can pay the bills doing this full time, but how do I take it to the next level?” So it’s really exciting for me and fun for me to have to think creatively about it, and I’m thinking of starting a vlog. I’ve never been a vlogger or a blogger, but I only have my students for three hours a week and it’s not enough for what I want to share as far as how do you study, or if you want to become a language teacher, how do you do your lesson planning? So I like communities where they make this kind of knowledge just available to everybody. So I bought a vlogging camera; I’m gonna try making vlogs.
ALLAN HAYTON: Doyon Foundation is starting a grant called DLO in the Classroom, Doyon Languages Online in the Classroom. So now we’ve built this online platform for introductory courses, how do we use those in the classrooms? That’s what it’s going to be about and there’s going to be a cohort of novice language teachers and getting exposure to theory and a little bit of practice in the classroom and as a cohort reflecting on how your teaching went and how you could do it differently next time, so be on the lookout for that opportunity.
ANNA CLOCK: Okay good, I was just going to say where do I apply? This is right up my alley.
ALLAN HAYTON: We’d love to have you if you have time in your schedule.
ANNA CLOCK: I would make time, I would make time for it.
ALLAN HAYTON: Gunalchéesh and we appreciate hearing from you and it’s good to get an update on where you’re at.
ANNA CLOCK: Yak’éi, gunalchéesh, enaa maasee’. Good, thank you.
We are pleased to highlight the efforts of individuals committed to the revitalization of our Native languages. Find more Storyteller profiles at doyonfoundation.com/storyteller. If you would like to nominate an individual for our Storyteller language profile series, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 907.459.2048.