Dákwanjè – Our Language

          ‘Dákwanjèʼ means ʼour languageʼ, ʼdáʼ means all of ours, and, ʼkwanjèʼ is third person, ʼto speak.ʼ Put together it could be understood as ʼOur languageʼ. Dákwanjè, is a language deeply rooted to the Yukon environment. There are eight communities where  Dákwanjè is spoken: Haines Junction, Whitehorse, Kluane, Canyon Creek, Lake Labarge, Takhini, Champagne with Aishihik and Klukshu having seasonal occupation. Dákwanjè is taught in eight schools throughout these communities, Whitehorse having the most schools that teach Dákwanjè. A major player in revitalization efforts is the Yukon Native Language Center, which has a Native Language teacher certificate program, 30 kwanjè language publications, as well as on-line language books and language lessons. The other major players are the First Nation governments who host language culture camps, publish language resources, hold community language classes, fund mentor/apprentice programs, and facilitate language nests.

           Dákwanjè has a rich sound system which is quite musical, with 43 consonants, glottalized stops, affricates, four tones, three diphthongs, and seven vowels the language becomes a melody to admire. (Yukon Native Language Center Southern Tutchone Section 2014) Dákwanjè is linguistically a member of the larger Athabaskan language family, which is comprised of 45 languages all within the same language family. Within the Yukon there are seven other distinct languages, all part of the same Athabaskan language family. Though each of the seven languages are unique, they overlap and there are borrowed words and similar language structure rules.

Click here: stalphabet for a pdf version of YNLCʼs Southern Tutchone alphabet system.

lorraine pointing to alphabet

-Elder Lorraine Allen


          Dákwanjè has four distinct dialects remaining today: Klukshu dialect, Taaʼan dialect, Kluane dialect, and the Ashēyi dialect. Though there are clear differences between these language communities, the terms dialect, and language are challenging terms that does not exist in our language. All the dialects certainly understand each other easily and this relationship also extends to the other ʼlanguagesʼ that surrounded us. The Northern Tutchone people, the Łingit people, and the Tagish People. The entire Yukon/Alaska/Northern B.C. are like a series of circles each overlapping with the circles nearest to them. So the ʼSouthern Tutchoneʼ circle does not exist unto itself, the Northern Tutchone circle sits on the top half of our circle, and the Łingit circle sits on the southern bottom of our circle. Which is why you see some ʼSouthern Tutchoneʼ with a clear Northern Tutchone influence, and some ʼSouthern Tutchoneʼ with a clear Łingit influence.  This is perhaps a more accurate understanding of all Yukonʼs Indigenous languages.

The three Dákwanjè nations are: Champagne & Aishihik, Kluane and Ta’an Kwach’an whose combined populations number 1500 citizens, as of 2011 (aboriginal affairs and northern development Canada). The number of proficient speakers of kwanje, from this membership is drastically low. UNESCO estimates we have 40 fluent speakers (UNESCO), thereby categorizing Dákwanjè as a critically endangered language. Though there are numerous efforts being made to revitalize the language, to date there are no new proficient speakers emerging from our schools or community language classes. There are however, a number of extremely dedicated people getting close to mid-level proficiency in the language. With so few speakers the danger of not carrying the language through to future generations is very real, and very immediate.