Twelve videos following Dehcho Dene Elders on the land are being released to help people learn how language and the land are interconnected.
The Dene Zhatié language is inherently connected to being on the land, says Kristen Tanche, who collaborated on the newly released series entitled Nahe Náhodhe – Our Way of Life.
The videos follow Elders on the land as they teach the Dene way of life. Twenty-four Elders, youth, fluent language speakers, and staff created the series over a week at the Katł’o’deeche Dene Wellness Centre last October.
“Each video has a different theme,” Tanche said. “Elders talk a bit more in depth about the Dene laws and then a shorter version of that is the new laws. And then there’s camp set-up, spruce trees, plant wisdom, and moose hides.”
Tanche said booklets with the same teachings will be released this month. The videos will be available online and distributed to First Nations via USB stick and DVD.
Violet Jumbo, who also worked on Nahe Náhodhe, said she hoped the videos helped people who want to learn their language.
“Just something small to start them off with,” Jumbo said, “so they have something that they can use.”
The videos are “for everybody all across the board,” said Tanche.
“The videos could be a bit more advanced for newer language speakers but we hope that, with enough use, people will … be more inspired to go on the land and to learn the language.”
Language learning eases loneliness
Dene Zhatié is Jumbo’s first language. She says she has been teaching it since she completed her schooling.
“As a language teacher over at Sambaa K’e school, I taught the cultural language classes for 12 years,” she said.
Jumbo thinks learning the language can help to ensure Elders and other fluent language speakers don’t feel loneliness. She hopes the videos will help bring generations together by bridging the language barrier.
From October 1 to 7, 2019, Elders, youth, fluent language speakers and staff members gathered at the Katł’o’deeche Dene Wellness Centre to work on the video series.
A scene in a video is filmed. Photo: Jonathan Antoine
“It’s very lonely when I don’t speak [my language] … the Elders say because the younger people don’t speak the language, the language barrier makes it very lonely,” Jumbo said.
“And [Elders] want to tell stories. The language is very direct and very humorous. Some things the Elders say … it’s really meaningful. I mean, the words are direct and right to the point. It makes their stories funny as well as listening to the stories like, wow, it’s amazing.”
Tanche said the pair had ample opportunity to learn, even as lead coordinators for the project.
“I was also able to participate in a lot of the things that they were doing,” she said. “I’m not a fluent speaker. So at the time, I couldn’t understand everything that they were saying.
“We tried to do the entire gathering in full Dene Zhatié language. It was a bit difficult for me to pick up everything but once I watched the videos I was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing. I need to learn my language.’”
Another book is next for Jumbo, one that will focus on land-based language learning about time, days of the week, and seasons. Tanche says the popularity of the new video series will help to decide if more are created in future.
The series was made by the Dehcho First Nations in collaboration with Reel Youth, the Government of Canada, and Dechinta, and is available on the First Nation’s website.