As the Northern Tutchone specialist at the Yukon Native Language Centre, Anne Ranigler brings a lifetime of speaking and learning about her language to the position.
Now she’s drawn on her extensive language skills to prepare a new book of listening exercises in Northern Tutchone.
She’s had help, she’s quick to point out, from language centre director John Ritter — who, she explains, taught her to write her language — and centre linguist André Bourcier.
She’s also had the assistance of her 81-year-old mother, Emma Shorty, a fluent speaker of the language and “an important resource for me,” says Ranigler.
Listening exercises are designed for use in the classroom to help learners distinguish between pairs or groups of similar sounds in a native language — sounds that are often hard to tell apart for English speakers.
A typical exercise has three parts: a short list of common words, which contrast the sounds; a series of sentences containing one or more of the sounds; and a sheet with pictures for each sentence. The picture sheets are used in oral classroom exercises.
The new book has been one of Ranigler’s main projects since she started work at the centre in September 2004.
“I’ve worked very steadily on it, with help from John and André,” says Ranigler. “I’ve written my language and practised for years.”
After a first draft was completed, the exercises had to be checked and rechecked to make sure they were transcribed accurately and that their meaning was correct.
One of the challenges of the project, says Ranigler, was creating sentences that contain the sounds to be practised.
“I had to listen very carefully to the high and low tones. It takes a lot of thinking. And I also discovered that I have my own dialect.”
Yukon native languages typically have a number of dialects, and Ranigler’s reflects the speech patterns of the “river people” among whom she grew up, in an area where Northern and Southern Tutchone speakers lived in close proximity.
She explains that classroom instructors can speak the words and sentences in their own dialect while still using this set of listening exercises.
Until the age of five, Ranigler grew up in the traditional way with her parents and nine siblings, living along the Thirty Mile and Teslin rivers.
“We stayed at Tanana Reef, and we travelled to such places as Big Eddy, Hootalinqua, and Livingstone Creek,” says Ranigler. “We were known as river people.”
A member of the Crow (Hanjät) clan of the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, Anne was given the native name Enkhume, after her aunt Annie Wickstrom.
Although she attended residential schools in Whitehorse and Carcross from the age of six, she never lost her native language.
She notes that she owes her fluency and her knowledge of Northern Tutchone heritage largely to her grandmother, Violet McGundy, who played a major role in her upbringing.
“My parents were fluent speakers too, and that’s how they communicated with us,” she says.
But by the time Ranigler left school in her teens, she could no longer speak her language well.
“It took me years to be fluent again. I understood it very well, but I had to learn to speak it. It helped that my grandmother was still alive until 1984, when she was almost 100.”
Ranigler remembers her grandmother coming to visit her at Midway when she and her first husband operated the lodge there from 1970 to 1981.
“All of a sudden she’d arrive on the bus and we’d talk away. It was just automatic to switch into Northern Tutchone. I never thought about it.”
In 1986, Ranigler began a new career in the health field as a community health representative in her hometown of Carmacks.
“That was very good because I worked with elders,” she explains. “I was the interpreter between the elders and the doctors and nurses.”
At that time a number of fluent elders in the Carmacks area were still alive, including Sarah Charlie and Mrs. Washpan.
“I had to explain to them about medical procedures,” says Ranigler. “I had to tell the doctor what the elder was saying. So that helped my fluency a great deal.”
In 1991, Ranigler began work with the Yukon government’s Aboriginal Language Services as a Northern Tutchone language interpreter in Carmacks.
“It was very hard work. We had to find a lot of words for new, modern things. And sometimes you’d have a sentence in a legal document and you had to explain what that meant. We did a lot of training to be interpreters.”
When the job came to an end in 2002, Ranigler says, “I thought, well, there’s nothing in language again for me, not in my community.”
She and her husband subsequently moved to Whitehorse, where she took two semesters of full-time college prep classes at Yukon College — training that came in useful the following year when the job at the language centre became available and Ranigler was able to apply the computer skills she’d acquired in the prep program.
Ranigler has since completed the native language instructor certificate program at Yukon College and will graduate from the two-year native language instructor diploma program this June.
Today she maintains fluency by speaking her language with her mother, sisters, and aunt, by teaching adult classes in Northern Tutchone for the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, and by attending literacy classes at the language centre along with other speakers from throughout the Northern Tutchone area.
She enjoys her various activities in promoting her ancestral language in the Whitehorse area.
“There are a lot of Northern Tutchone people here, because a lot of them moved from the river to Whitehorse, like my family,” she notes.
And she plans to stay in languages “because I feel it’s very important,” she says. “We cannot lose this wonderful, wonderful language that has everything in it and is so complex, because it was given to us by the Creator.
“And I get a lot of help here at the centre. It’s a great place to work for a person like me. I’m very fortunate to have a place like this.”
Submitted by the Yukon Native Language Centre.