Learning Dákwanjè

Call to Action

Why should you take the first step, or the second step on the language learning path? What financial benefits are there? What emotional, physical and spiritual benefits can you get by learning the language?

These are important questions that will be asked again and again and again along the language journey. There are no easy answers. There is no easy way to learn a language. It takes hard work. but perhaps the hardest is the first step and the last step. those are perhaps the hardest of all.

That said, this is a call to action. Brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, nephews and nieces, all my relations. I humbly call you to join the language learning journey. It will be a lifelong journey, it will be exhilarating, and boring, momentous and gruelling, spiritually gratifying, and spiritually taxing. Any work in the reclamation of our ancestral identity is both uplifting and daunting. Our ancestors challenge was a negation with the spirits of the land to survive, our challenge is a negotiation to survive with our Ancestral Identity. 

kfn kids - language nest

-Kluane First Nation School language nest children

The culture of Dan

Our culture and our language are one, there is no natural separation. When the old ones speak they do so from a cultural foundation. Of course today there are those who are very cultural but have limited to no speaking abilities. This is not natural, but stems from the ravages of the Residential School era. When trying to learn the language we must always imagine how a fluent speaker would approach things. Imagine the intergenerational teachings and land based teachings that are also integral to understanding our culture. Once your vocabulary is built up to say 200 words try to stop asking for direct english – Dákwanjè translations. Instead you could ask, ʼhow would your mother call you into the house at nighttime?ʼ rather than ask, ʼhow do you say, ʼcome in, itʼs late.ʼ Though on the surface they seem similar, the responses you will often get are light years apart.

Our Worldview

Our peopleʼs worldview is beautiful and encompassing. It is a worldview that comes from the land around us, shaped in much the same way as the length of our winters or the nuance of an elders story around a cup of tea. It is patient, humble, full of strength and able to sit in wait for game. As you learn Dákwanje, there will be glimpses into our worldview should you open your eyes to see them. From the term for grizzly bear, Ásì shäw, meaning ʼMy great grandfatherʼ, to having no word for: garbage, ugly, or stupid. These are just some insights into our worldview. As we listen to Kʼaxhnuxh tell stories we are thrust into another time, another way of being. Just as when we begin to speak Dákwanjè we will naturally have to exhibit the melodious nature of the language so others can understand us. The language journey is best done as a spiritual journey, a reclamation of identity and purpose that aligns with community.

marge collecting soapberries

-Chasrua (Marge Jackson) harvesting soapberries

Below is a quote from: Our Stories about Teaching and Learning: A Pedagogy of Consequence for Yukon First Nation Settings

by Brian Lewthwaite • Thomas Owen • Ashley Doiron • Barbara McMillan • Robert Renaud.


“It is like for many years we have watched this thing you call ‘education’ occur in our town. I know there is much that can occur in the school that is good, but it does not make a person wise. In our culture there is nothing more important than the learning that makes a person wise. The main thing [your] culture wants from school is ‘head knowledge’. That is what it has always emphasized. I do not know why. It intrigues me. Your focus is mainly on the gaining of a kind of knowledge that seems to have little value in understanding the world and to make us wise people. I see it has some value, but maybe this value is only to make someone seem better than another. I think that schools can become focused on this. I think this is why many of us in the past questioned the very purpose of schools. It seems to focus on the individual and their future, not the future of the community. Our community would say that is only a small part of what schools should be about—it is about ‘making a human being’ that can contribute to our society. There is much to learn from our culture, not only our knowledge of the natural world but maybe, more importantly, how one should live in this world. It is most important this learning about how to live in the world. This is not seen as important. Without this things will not go well, both for the person and the world as a whole. In our culture the wise person has qualities like being innovative and resourceful for the benefit of others, or a willingness to persevere and not give up easily or contribute to the welfare of the group. All of these have not had much value in school, but now I hear it is becoming that way. This must happen.”

Percy (Elder)

Iʼm not entirely sure if it is a Southern Tutchone elder, but the elder is certainly from one of our Yukon Communities and also shows a strong example of our worldview in juxtaposition to the worldview of Yukon Schools.


Received: 24 September 2013 / Accepted: 22 November 2013 / Published online: 4 December 2013 Ó Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013