Liard First Nation was awarded the territory’s 2020 Council of the Federation Literacy Award on Sept. 17 for its work to preserve the Kaska language. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News file)

Liard First Nation’s language department receives literacy award

Decades of work has made Kaska language available to many

The Liard First Nation has worked for decades to preserve the Kaska language and that work was recognized Sept. 17 with the awarding of the territory’s 2020 Council of the Federation Literacy Award.

The award recognizes the contributions of the First Nation’s language department in the territory in literacy and in providing a body of materials for Yukon First Nations languages, particularly the Kaska language, it was highlighted in a Sept. 17 statement.

“It is my honour to recognize the Liard First Nation language department for its contributions to literacy and Kaska language revitalization,” Premier Sandy Silver said. “For decades, this group has found innovative ways to share the Kaska language with modern learners and keep this language alive into the future. Their work demonstrates the importance of inter-generational learning and the critical relationship of languages to culture, heritage, traditional knowledge, and relationship with the land.”

Among the work that’s been done over the decades are interviews that were recorded and transcribed by elder Leda Jules and the late Richard Charlie.

For 40 years, their work saw a variety of Kaska traditional knowledge materials created that are contributing to learning, research and language preservation currently underway.

Jules has also published a number of Kaska children’s books and several academic books.

The First Nation’s language department has also contributed to the University of British Columbia’s Kaska language website at https://kaska.arts.ubc.ca/ as well as the Kaska Talking Dictionary at http://kaska.anso.ubc.ca/~kaskadict/

Work to digitize resources has meant voices of elders and other language materials are more widely available.

“The Language Department’s countless collaborations with researchers and academic institutions over the years have contributed immensely to the study of the Kaska language and Dene languages,” Yukon Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said. “This commitment to promote, preserve, revitalize, and maintain the Kaska language will ensure it is carried forward into the future.”

The language department is continuing to develop new language materials and support Kaska language learners.

Along with Jules, it was noted department director Martina Volfová and department staff — Jocelyn Wolftail, Paul Caesar, Emeral Poppe and Josephine Caesar — “are determined to continue their work to protect and preserve the Kaska language, which is inseparable from its people, culture, traditional knowledge, land and heritage.”

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

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