Teresa Vander Meer-Chassé, We Are Our Language curator, left, and Courtney Wheelton, Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre’s cultural program and marketing manager, pose for a photo at the doors of the exhibit on June 27. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Getting the word out: new exhibit highlights Yukon First Nations languages

The exhibit is on display until Oct. 12

As the world recognizes 2019 as the UN-declared International Year of Indigenous Languages, eight First Nation languages of the Yukon are being showcased with an exhibit, We Are Our Language, opening June 29 inside the Hude Njú Kú Gallery at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre. (KDCC)

Curator Teresa Vander Meer-Chassé said the UN recognition led her to come up with the idea for the exhibit. She proposed it to officials at the KDCC.

“Language revitalization is the core of cultural revitalization,” Courtney Wheelton, KDCC’s cultural program and marketing manager said in a June 26 interview.

Emphasizing the support of KDCC for Indigenous language revitalization and the Year of Indigenous Languages, Wheelton said the exhibit made a lot of sense for the cultural centre to host.

A language exhibit is not your typical art gallery display and putting it together is a little different, Vander Meer-Chassé said.

The Yukon exhibit includes documents showing harvest words translated into Tlingit, descriptions of each region of the Yukon and the languages used there, and books and displays showcasing the work of numerous language experts as well as programs throughout the territory.

Many who work in language revitalization aren’t familiar with the process of putting together an exhibit. So as Vander Meer- Chassé began reaching out to those in the field, she began by answering questions and explaining the basics of her work, the project and what she was looking for.

Teslin elder Bessie Kèyishí Cooley provided a wealth of documents, many that were handwritten, to the exhibit. Cooley has taught the Tlingit language for many years and the exhibit shows her efforts.

Among the pieces in the display focused on Cooley and her work are a Tlingit Language Book, a translation of the Declaration of Human Rights, prayer translations and more.

As Vander Meer-Chassé and Wheelton both emphasized, Cooley’s efforts are among many language initiatives in the territory.

“It’s super-diverse,” Vander Meer-Chassé said of what’s happening for Indigenous language throughout the Yukon.

The work ranges from full-immersion programs to social media efforts and productions like the First Nation of Nacho Nyack Dun’s Camp Phrases Book, a tiny booklet, small enough to fit in a back pocket and taken to camp, which translates English phrases like “give me the axe” to Northern Touchtone — “Khwät de”.

Both Vander Meer- Chassé and Wheelton are hopeful the exhibit will not only educate visitors to the KDCC about the Indigenous languages of the Yukon, but also inform those who work in language revitalization of the extensive efforts throughout the territory, possibly providing ideas for their own programs.

The focus, they said, is on the work happening throughout the Yukon to revitalize language and encourage the everyday use of those languages.

The exhibit will feature infographics on eight of the Yukon’s Indigenous languages — Gwich’in, Hän, Kaska, Northern Tutchone, Southern Tutchone, Tagish, Tlingit and Upper Tanana.

“It’s a very text-heavy exhibit,” Vander Meer-Chassé said, though she also pointed out that as visitors make their way through the exhibit they will hear audio of people speaking the languages. There are also video displays set up as part of the experience.

A small “nook” in one area of the exhibit will provide numerous resources for those who may be interested in pursuing learning the languages further.

The UN declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages to “raise awareness of them, not only to benefit the people who speak these languages, but also for others to appreciate the important contribution they make to our world’s rich, cultural diversity”, it’s stated on the website.

The exhibit will be on display until Oct. 12.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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Scott Price, an art handler, hangs part of the We Are Our Language exhibit at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on June 27. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

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