‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program

I’m beyond thrilled to finally have a piece written up and presented to Tea and Bannock about a very special and hardworking group of Deh Cho Ladies who are involved with the ‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program.

I hold this program close to my heart because firstly I saw firsthand how they have been working day and often very late nights on reclaiming their language, taking in as many Dene Zhatié words and phrases, reclaiming their space and identity as a dene person– here is a group of fearless women who are dedicated and determined to revive their mother tongue to teach their children, siblings and others who are interested. I can’t help but to feel excited and extremely proud of these ladies.

I reached out to Dahti Tsetso who is from Fort Simpson and asked if she wanted to explain who she is, why it’s important for her to attend the Indigenous Language Revitalization program and what it’s all about. Thankfully she agreed and I managed to get my mother, Joyce McLeod (who is also in the program), to send me photos to add to the blog. Thank you both (as well to the others involved) for being so brave to save such an important part of the Dene culture. I commend you for all being such trailblazers for our Dene communities!

You can find a lot of great information and videos on their facebook page called “Speak to me in Dene Zhatie.”

– shawna mcleod

{cover imageDene Zhatie Mentor Louisa Moreau teaching Joyce McLeod, Dahti Tsetso, Nicole Perron, Terri Sapp, and Leonie Sabourin Dene Zhatié phrases as they fry bannock.}

 

 

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First presentation on learning Dehcho Dene Zhatie. Everyone was required to come up with phrases and present it to the class; almost everyone was nervously shaking and scared to make mistakes.

Dahti Tsetso súzhe. Sı́ Tłıcho Dene o’tę gots’ęh Łíidlii Kų́ę́ náhnde. My name is Dahti Tsetso. I am Tłicho Dene and I live in Fort Simpson, NT. I was born here and spent my early childhood growing up by the river. I met my husband while attendıng university and am now married into the Dehcho region. The Dehcho is our home and this is where we plan to raise our family.

Practicing our Dene culture and passing the culture on to our children is very important to us. However, like so many others of our generation, neither one of us speak our Dene language. Language loss is an intergenerational impact of residential schools that has had a massive impact. The legacy of residential schools has denied almost a whole generation of Dene the ability to speak their own language. This means many of us could not communıcate with our unilingual grandparents. We could never listen to their stories, or learn our oral histories in our language. A Dene person without their language is missing a very key part of their cultural identity. And personally, it has left me feeling confused and at times disconnected from my own family and culture.

This is why learning to speak the language is such an important endeavour; for me, it has become an act of reconciliation. Learning the language empowers us to connect to our culture and elders in ways that are deeply meaningful, but it is also vital for the well being of our communities as whole. Our language is at a critical point in history. As our parents’ generation ages, the number of fluent language speakers is declining. This means that if we do not reverse this trend, we risk facing a reality that one day there will be no fluent speakers left.

Learning to speak the Dene language has been a long-held and deeply rooted goal of mine. My hope is to become fluent in the language, and to share what I learned with others. My dream is to see my children conversing in the language with their grandparents one day. I want them to learn their oral histories while immersed in the language of this land. This is why I chose to enrol in the ‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program’.

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Learning nouns, verbs and incorporating into simple phrases while Cooking and sewing in Dene Zhatié- Nicole Perron, Lori Anne Bertrand and Terri Sapp learning to make muffins with Denise, Dene Zhatié Mentor.

The ‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program’ is a University of Victoria post-secondary program that is being community-delivered in partnership with Dehcho First Nations, the Dehcho Divisional Education Council and the communities of Fort Providence and Fort Simpson. The goal of this language program is to create new language speakers and teachers of Dehcho Dene Zhatié.

All fluency levels was accepted into the program, so there is a wide range of language ability. From new language learners (like myself) to those whom Dene Zhatié is their first language. There are also diverse backgrounds in our program. While the majority are Dehcho Dene, I am Tlicho Dene, there is one Cree student (also married into the Dehcho region), and one very special non-Dene member.

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The DDEC board visits the Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program’ in Fort Providence

The language program has taught each of us how to begin our own language-learning journeys, and perhaps even more importantly, it has taught us how to share what we learn with others. The program has done this by teaching us a language immersion method known as the ‘Mentor-Apprentice-Program’ (or MAP for short), and by learning language writing and literacy from highly trained language specialists from our region. Andy Norwegian and Violet Jumbo have been instrumental in teaching the language in our program. Their wealth of experience and knowledge is humbling, and our cohort is continuously grateful for their teachings.

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Indigenous Language Mentorship course – Belinda Sabourin, Leonie Sabourin, and Instructor Trish R. – Sewing Demonstration – learning Dene Zhatié words and phrases – needle, thread, embroidery, stroud, etc.

Personally, I have experienced exciting and empowering language growth since the start of this language program. Before this program I had difficulty even counting from 1-10, or greeting someone properly in the language. Like most children I knew some basic colours, a few animal names, and a few basic commands (like “calm down” or “eat” – the common phrases often expressed to children). And while I took evening classes whenever the opportunity arose, I did not retain meaningful language from those lessons for the long-term.

After almost two years in this program and 400 MAP hours, I can now have short and simple conversations in the language. I can pick out bits of fluent conversation between fluent speakers and can work to understand the gist of their conversations. Without regular practice I risk losing my language gains. Time invested in immersion is the key to achieving language progress. I am still not near fluent yet, but I’ve taken steps towards my goal and that is an amazing feeling!

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Group photo at Telemia Camp – Nicole Perron, Terry Sapp, Cecile Deneyoua, Patricia Bouiver, Gracyn Tanche, Dahti Tsetso, Trish R, Evelyn Sabourin, Kim Hardisty, Joyce McLeod, Nimisha Bastesdo, Beverly Hope, Leonie Sabourin & Jonas Landry (who has completed the program already) Missing from photo: Cheryl Cli, Belinda Constant

A major factor in my language journey so far, and one of the program’s biggest strengths is the group identity that has been fostered by the program. I have not done this as an individual, but as a member of a cohort.

Collectively, we are thirteen strong-minded women. We learn alongside each other; supporting and encouraging each other as we go. We have experienced this program and the empowerment it has brought to our lives together. We have borne witness to each other’s growth.

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Students of the ‘Dehcho Dene Zhatié: Indigenous Language Revitalization Program spent a week learning at The Telemia Camp outside of Fort Providence.

There are just six months left in this language program: some of us will choose to continue on and pursue a Bachelors degree in order to become fully certified elementary and secondary school teachers. Some of us will be satisfied to finish in April 2016 with a Diploma in this program. Whatever each one us decides to pursue, the end of this program is just over the horizon, and we will each hold our own responsibility to continue on in our language journeys. I am both thankful and hopeful for the road ahead.

Sedzée t’áh máhsi enéhthę. Łı́e dzęne, nezų Dene K’ę́ę́ gohndeh gha. Azhíi dúyé enéhthę! Mahsi dúyé!

[With my heart I am thankful. One day I will speak well in the language. Anything is possible for me! I am very thankful!].

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While at the Telemia Camp, the students learned how to traditionally tan a hide while only using Dene Zhatié words and phrase – scrapping, holes, hard surface, scrapper, etc.

In closing, I will leave you with an oath to learning Dene Zhatié. As a cohort we chose to adopt this oath and I hope that in reading this some of you might be inspired to do that same…

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