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20 First Nations Yukoners are being paid to learn their language

“I would love to see all my cousins and all young First Nations people from the Yukon pick up their language,” says one participant hired for a new language program.

Participants of the new Youth Today: Language Leaders Tomorrow Program on a zoom call (Facebook – Council of Yukon First Nations).


Nika Silverfox-Young introduced herself in Northern Tutchone on a phone call with CHONfm this afternoon. She didn’t translate to English because according to her Elders, that normalizes the language.


Silverfox-Young is 27 years old and is a Wolf Clan member of Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation. She just accepted a full-time job studying her language as a part of the Yukon Native Language Centre’s new Youth Today: Language Leaders Tomorrow Program.


“I’m really excited for the future. I can’t wait,” Silverfox-Young said.


The program pays 20 young people from across the Yukon to study for 37 and a half hours a week as a way to support the revitalization Yukon First Nation languages. Along with Northern Tutchone there are Southern Tutchone, Tlingit, Kaska, and Hän learners.


Silverfox-Young has been teaching herself Northern Tutchone for the past year to reclaim her language after her mother and grandmother went to residential school. She started posting videos of herself saying words on Facebook and Instagram and her cousin who works at the language centre noticed.


“Truth be told, I didn’t think anyone was watching,” Silverfox-Young said.


That cousin let her know that the job was coming up and after chatting with coordinators and an official interview, she was hired.


The program started this week after two weeks of online orientation. Participants have been hired for a year with the possibility to extend. Each student will have their own personalized learning plan tailored to their interests. For example, Silverfox-Young is passionate about the conservation and preservation of the Yukon River salmon species, so she is reading Northern Tutchone stories about salmon.


“This program is an innovative example of a Yukon First Nations-led approach to language revitalization that recognizes and supports youth potential to lead significant social and institutional change over the coming years,” said Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston in statement.


Students are being led by coordinator Mats’äsäna Mą/Sarina Primozic. They are learning through games, literature, being on the land, and emersion.


Youth Today: Language Leaders Tomorrow aims to empower those studying to become language champions and to carry their language forward into the future.


“I’ve introduced myself already to a few Elders and the look on their face makes it so worthwhile, and them telling me they’re very proud of me for doing this. I would love to see all my cousins and all young First Nations people from the Yukon pick up their language and start speaking it,” said Silver-fox Young.


Silver-fox Young hopes to someday create her own language resources like colouring books and story books as well as a botanical field guide of traditional plants and medicines.


Published December 15, 2021. 

Written by: CHON

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