The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations has a long-term vision: to have citizens born and raised with Southern Tutchone as their mother tongue, and have people so fluent in it that it will no longer have to be taught in Yukon schools.
Stephen Reid, who goes by his traditional name Khasha, says he envisions this happening in 15 years.
He’s a language teacher in Haines Junction, Yukon, who’s creating a curriculum for an adult immersive Southern Tutchone language program.
“We’ve never been in this position before … to have to teach our people their own language,” says Khasha.
Khasha taught Southern Tutchone for 13 years at Elijah Smith School in Whitehorse. This spring, he was at a language conference at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre where Steve Smith, the chief of Champagne and Aishihik, was present.
Khasha said he hastily wrote a proposal to Smith on the back of a napkin.
“I had this idea to go to Kahnawà:ke myself, so I put this little proposal together … it wasn’t anything pretty.”
Kahnawà:ke is a Mohawk community south of Montreal that’s been running a successful immersive language program since 1988. Khasha wanted to go there to learn about the program.
Smith recalls the interaction. He says Khasha told him that the First Nation wasn’t going to build any speakers, until young adults start preserving and passing on the language.
“We at Champagne Aishihik Chief and Council really did seize Khasha’s vision,” says Smith.
Khasha said he expected it to take time, but he says he got an immediate response from the chief: “You’re not going to go alone, we’re all going to go.”
As a result, there’s a working body of Champagne and Aishihik citizens who share the vision.
Language centre opens
The First Nation opened Dákwänjē Kų̀ — or ‘our language house’ — in November.
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