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Reviving language in Lutsel K'e
Chipewyan dialect specific to community merits its own dictionary

Sarah Ladik
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 22, 2014

The people of Lutsel K'e welcomed a new addition to their Chipewyan language tool kit last week in the form of a dictionary of their very own.

"When this process started, we started thinking about our kids," said George Marlowe, one of the elders who was instrumental in the project. "Fort Smith and Res have their own dictionaries. There are differences in the language between the communities, and now we have our own dictionary for our community."

The book, published by the South Slave Divisional Education Council (SSDEC) of which Lutsel K'e is a part, has been years in the making. When Fort Resolution was presented with a similar language tome four years ago, representatives from the Lutsel'ke District Education Council asked when they would get one of their own.

"I hope this will be the start of a real strong language revival in Lutsel K'e," assistant superintendent for the SSDEC Brent Kaulback told the packed Zah Lockhart Hall Dec. 16. "I hope you expect your children to come home speaking Chip. We want it to be more than the language of one room in the school, but instead to be heard in homes, at the store, everywhere in the community."

Several staff at the Lutsel'ke Dene School said they looked forward to incorporating the text into their classes. Aboriginal language instructor Elizabeth Catholique said she was eager to acquire a new tool to help children learn. Principal Devin Roberts said they are already looking at bringing Chipewyan into more classes, like phys ed, in the coming years.

"It's not a total immersion, but wildlife class is already taught in Chipewyan," he told News/North. "It's pretty straightforward. We hope this will help bridge things between the students and the community and the staff, especially those from the south."

Roberts explained that all but three teachers, including himself, are new to the community and most are new to the North. Thanks to a concerted effort to include the community in the education process, he said the transition has been relatively smooth and the relationships between community members and school staff are improving over time.

The plight of Chipewyan

As keen as educators were to get the new books into their classrooms, the students present were just as eager to get a good look at the dictionaries. Many of the photos illustrating words and phrases are of local landmarks and people, something many children recognized right away.

"It's really interesting," said Tyson Marlowe. "We've never had a Chip dictionary just for Lutsel'ke before."

As important as language revival is to individuals and distinct communities, the plight of Chipewyan is reverberating in territorial politics as well.

Tu Nedhe MLA Tom Beaulieu was present for the dictionary launch and encouraged residents to campaign to stop the Tu Nedhe riding from being eliminated for the next territorial election.

If proposed changes become reality, he said, the Yellowknives Dene communities of Dettah and Ndilo will fall under the same jurisdiction as Lutsel'ke and Fort Resolution.

"If that happens, there is great potential that it eliminates a language from the House," he said, adding a Yellowknives MLA would not be likely to speak Chipewyan, with the same holding true for a politician from Fort Resolution or Lutsel K'e speaking Dogrib. "If this is an assembly that represents all people, all people have to have the opportunity to hear their language spoken in the House."

Although there are many language groups in the territory, and even more dialect groups within each of those, George Marlowe said he respects all aboriginal languages and their efforts towards revival and growth.

"I know a lot of Chipewyans," said Marlowe. "From Manitoba all the way to Res and here, they all have a lot of dialects, and that don't bother me at all."

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