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Traditionally speaking

Dez Loreen
Northern News Services
Friday, May 04, 2007

INUVIK - Educating youth in the traditional ways of the Gwich'in culture is something that Bella Kay takes pride in.

She recently graduated from her latest course at Aurora College. She received her diploma as an Aboriginal language and cultural instructor.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Bella Kay has been teaching the Gwich'in language since 1992. She started teaching in Fort McPherson and has been teaching in Inuvik ever since. She says it's important for young people to understand their culture. - Dez Loreen/NNSL photo

Kay got her start teaching in Fort McPherson in 1992.

After spending some time there, she moved her craft to Inuvik where she settled in as Gwich'in language teacher at Sir Alexander Mackenzie school.

"I started in the teacher education program at Aurora College," said Kay.

"At first I was only teaching kindergarten to Grade 2."

She said the signing of the Gwich'in land claim was what started her teaching Gwich'in. It was after the signing that she decided to start promoting the culture in the classroom.

"At first, I didn't want to teach because I'm not fluent in the language," said Kay.

"But in the end, I had classroom experience and I took the job."

Kay remembered being back in Fort McPherson before teaching in Inuvik.

"I only taught half-days then, I spent the rest of my time with the elders at the cultural centre, speaking the language," said Kay.

Kay said that when she made the move to Inuvik to teach the older students, she was in a new world.

"I didn't know what I got myself into," she said.

"Before that, I had only taught K-3."

The new group of students would range from kindergarten to Grade 6.

"It's good, I like what I'm doing," said Kay.

She has also been taking language courses at the Aurora College.

"I've taken many two-week and three-week courses on language," said Kay.

Keeping the culture strong is important to Kay because she sees a generation gap in traditional knowledge.

"The younger age is kind of lost," she said.

"A lot of the middle-aged people want to learn the language and go out on the land now."

Kay thinks that programs should be offered for the people who want to get involved in the culture.

Each day starts with a prep period for Kay, where she gets her materials ready for teaching.

"I have one prep class, then I have students all day," said Kay.

"I use traditional objects, pictures and things to teach my lessons."

Kay said she keeps teaching because she loves what she does.

"It's important for the students to know these things. I enjoy teaching and learning the language," said Kay.