Tsenaa‘įį choo to Avis and family for their permission to share these lessons on Doyon Languages Online.

Nee’aanèegn’ (Upper Tanana) language lessons developed by Elder and teacher Avis Sam, and originally published in 2000, are now available to all interested language learners through Doyon Languages Online, a project of Doyon Foundation.

These online lessons by Avis are the result of a partnership between Doyon Foundation, Transparent Language and the nonprofit 7000 Languages. The lessons are based on work originally published in 2000 with support from the Alaska Native Language Center and the Yukon Native Language Centre.  

The lessons are arranged in a seasonal activity format, September through June, but learners are free to access the material they are most interested in, rather than follow a strict order. 

Avis and her family hope that these lessons will be enjoyed by all those interested in learning to speak and understand the ancestral language of the Upper Tanana people of Northway, Alaska. 

About the language

Nee’aanèegn’ means “Our Language” in the Upper Tanana language. The name Upper Tanana refers to the headwaters of the Tanana river, located at the confluence of the Chisana and Nabesna rivers just north of Northway. The Nee’aanèegn’ name for this area is Tth’itu’. Upper Tanana communities are Northway, Tetlin, Tok and Beaver Creek (in the Yukon Territory). Upper Tanana is very closely related to Tanacross and Ahtna languages. Learners familiar with Tanacross or other Athabascan languages will have an easier time learning Upper Tanana.

About the author

Avis and her husband, Roy, live in Northway, Alaska, where they continue to enjoy a subsistence lifestyle as much as possible.

Avis was born on her father’s trap line in the winter of 1931, delivered by her auntie Martha Mark, and was given the name Ts’ehxeh Suu’. Her parents are Stephen Northway and Edna Mark from Tanacross. She is a member of the Naltsiin Clan. Her grandfather is Taaiy Ta’ and her grandmother is Tsattłeegn, otherwise known as Ana Northway.

Avis grew up speaking her Athabaskan language fluently, and she maintains an expert knowledge of it to this day. She is a strong advocate of traditional culture and values, and is an expert beader, seamstress and birch bark basket maker.

She has worked diligently to promote a knowledge of language and songs among the young people in her region. She attended Yukon College in the late 1980s and completed the certificate course for Native language instructors in 1990. She served for several years as an Upper Tanana instructor at the Walter Northway School in Northway. Avis also served as a teacher trainer in workshops sponsored by the Mount Sanford Tribal Consortium’s Athabaskan Languages Project.

Special acknowledgements

Doyon Foundation extends gratitude to John Ritter, the Alaska Native Language Center and the Yukon Native Language Centre for their support, as well as Transparent Language, 7000 Languages, and Doyon, Limited.

Special acknowledgement goes to Avis and all of our Elders, past and present, for teaching us our language and culture. 

This online course was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Alaska Native Educational Program, award # S356A220042. 

About 7000 Languages

7000 Languages empowers communities around the world to teach, learn and sustain their endangered languages. They are a 501(c)(3) public charity whose vision is one where all communities have the resources and opportunities to reclaim, strengthen and revitalize their languages. 

About Doyon Languages Online

Through Doyon Languages Online, Doyon Foundation is working to increase the number of people who can speak the endangered Native languages of the Doyon region. Courses include:

  • Benhti Kokhut’ana Kenaga’ (Lower Tanana)
  • Deg Xinag
  • Denaakk’e (Koyukon)
  • Dihthaad Xt’een Iin Aanděeg’ (Tanacross)
  • Dinak’i (Upper Kuskokwim)
  • Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in)
  • Doogh Qinag (Holikachuk)
  • Hän (Doyon Languages Online course, plus special memorial course based on the work of the late Isaac Juneby)
  • Nee’aanèegn’ (Upper Tanana) (Doyon Languages Online course, plus online course based on the work of Avis Sam)

Doyon Languages Online courses are available for free to all interested learners. Students can sign up and access the courses from a desktop or laptop computer, or via the Transparent Language app available for both Apple and Android mobile devices and tablets.

For more information on the Doyon Languages Online, please visit doyonfoundation.com/dlo or contact 907.459.2048 or foundation@doyon.com. For assistance signing up for or using Doyon Languages Online, view the instructional video series on YouTube.