Making-Cocoa-in-HanSo many languages, so little time!

The WAYK team returned to Fairbanks this spring for two weeks of training with speakers and learners of four Athabaskan languages: Hän, Gwich’in, Deg Xinag, and Denaakk’e.

Prior to this visit, in the fall of 2014, the Doyon Foundation organized a series of introductory WAYK workshops in the Fairbanks area, in cooperation with the Tanana Tribal Council and the Interior Aleutians Campus Tok Center. The Doyon Foundation invited WAYK to return this April to offer additional support for community members, and more advanced training in WAYK techniques for learning and teaching.

Making Tea in Deg Xinag

One of the goals for this visit was to focus on single languages in small group sessions, instead of the large, multi-language “Introduction to WAYK” workshops the Doyon Foundation has hosted in the past. While large workshops are a great way to get started, it can be a challenge to delve further into WAYK with so many languages in the room. With nine Athabaskan languages in the region, not to mention many more local variations and dialects, The Doyon Foundation’s Language Revitalization Program is acutely aware of this challenge. One of the ways that Doyon has addressed this challenge is by providing support to small groups of dedicated language champions, who are passionate about their languages and have shown interest in learning more about tools and techniques they can employ to improve their teaching and learning skills.

Making Cocoa in Gwich'in

Over the course of the two weeks, we were able to spend between 10-20 hours with each language “team,” honing their WAYK language transfer skills. As we spent time with each of the groups, a theme for the whole trip emerged: whether we were in the classroom or around the kitchen table, we made coffee, tea, or cocoa in the language. For those of us who visited with all four languages, having a recurring activity (a.k.a. a Same Conversation) highlighted the similarities between the languages, and practicing the activity daily gave the learners confidence while completing a common (and delicious!) task in the language.

Making Cocoa in Denaakk'e

Our thanks to The Doyon Foundation, Doris Miller, Allan Hayton, and all of the speakers and learners, especially Kenneth Frank, Ruth Ridley, Jim Dementi, Jeanette Dementi, Beth Leonard, Laverne Demientieff, Malinda Chase, Marie Yaska, and Susan Paskvan. We’re looking forward to another visit in the coming months.

Be sure to check out our events page to see where WAYK is traveling next!

Written by Evan Gardner