Aboriginal languages need protection, says Elias

The Yukon must begin preserving its aboriginal languages, said Darius Elias, the Liberal MLA from Old Crow.

The Yukon must begin preserving its aboriginal languages, said Darius Elias, the Liberal MLA from Old Crow.

“What are the practical and financial implications of a legislated Yukon Aboriginal Languages Protection Act?” said Elias, who last week put forward a motion in the legislature demanding the creation of a committee to study the possible extinction of aboriginal languages.

“The Gwich’in, the Han, the Kaska, the Tagish, the Tlingit, the Northern and Southern Tutchone, and the Upper Tanana are all in trouble,” he said. “And this warrants a thorough public discussion.”

“Why would we stand idly by and watch ancient languages perish?”

Yukoners aren’t facing serious questions about the future of those languages as their speakers dwindle, he said.

Should a Tlingit elder be able to receive medical attention in her native language? Is that practical?

Should the Alaska Highway include signs in Southern Tutchone? Is that worth the money?

What would the Yukon lose if an entire language disappeared from use?

These questions, and more, could be addressed by a non-partisan legislative committee that would study what could be feasible, he said.

“We have to be cost-conscious and efficient right off the bat because we don’t want to run into a situation where we have to do this a second time,” he said.

Both Nunavut and the Northwest Territories already have laws that protect their aboriginal languages.

The Yukon, despite its rich aboriginal heritage, is falling behind.

“Our public government should have a role in preserving our rich linguistic tapestry that exists in our territory,” said Elias.

Elias tabled his proposal in the Yukon legislature last week, and is waiting for a vote on the motion.

First Nations already provide some language services.

The Council of Yukon First Nations offers free lessons in Tlingit, Southern Tutchone and Northern Tutchone as a part of its Yukon Native Language Centre

And the current negotiations cover a program and service transfer agreement between Canada and First Nation self-governments that includes language preservation.

“(The committee) is going to complement both of those,” said Elias.

The committee should take “a couple of years” to do its job, he said.

If rushed, the Yukon could end up in a situation like the Northwest Territories,’ where its language protection act was so disliked it had to be reviewed.

The act needed to do a better job at tailoring language preservation for different First Nations, said Elias.

“There’s different service delivery models; there’s different regions,” he said. “One size doesn’t fit all.”

One community might want all government services, such as health care, justice and education, provided in an aboriginal language, said Elias. Others might only want heritage preservation programs.

The Yukon includes two aboriginal language families, Tlingit and Athabaskan. Athabaskan includes eight individual languages: Gwich’in, Han or Tr’ondek Hwech’in, Upper Tanana, Northern and Southern Tutchone, Tagish and Kaska.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Calvin Delwisch poses for a photo inside his DIY sauna at Marsh Lake on Feb. 18.
Yukoners turning up the heat with unique DIY sauna builds

Do-it-yourselfers say a sauna built with salvaged materials is a great winter project

d
Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

g
Yukonomist: School competition ramps up in the Yukon

It’s common to see an upstart automaker trying to grab share from… Continue reading

The Yukon government responded to a petition calling the SCAN Act “draconian” on Feb. 19. (Yukon News file)
Yukon government accuses SCAN petitioner of mischaracterizing her eviction

A response to the Jan. 7 petition was filed to court on Feb. 19

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Housing construction continues in the Whistle Bend subdivision in Whitehorse on Oct. 29, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Bureau of Statistics reports rising rents for Yukoners, falling revenues for businesses

The bureau has published several reports on the rental market and businesses affected by COVID-19

Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Peter Johnston at the Yukon Forum in Whitehorse on Feb. 14, 2019. Johnston and Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn announced changes to the implementation of the Yukon First Nations Procurement Policy on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Third phase added to procurement policy implementation

Additional time added to prep for two provisions

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

Most Read