Shayawdustee Pricilla Dawson has spent many hours learning Southern Tutchone. Recently, she graduated from the First Nations Language Proficiency Certificate Program.
Next Step: her diploma.
“At the end of the day, we need to help create fluent speakers to pass the knowledge down. It’s important to me because the language is a part of our identity as Yukon First Nations people.”
Ä́yinzhì Pricilla Dawson chʼe.
– My name is Pricilla Dawson
Tlingit kʼe Shayawdustee ùúye.
– My Tlingit name is Shayawdustee.
– I am crow clan
For Shayawdustee Pricilla Dawson, being able to speak Southern Tutchone, the language of her ancestors, is an important part of her identity.
“I see that our language isn’t being spoken,” she says. “And our Elders who are fluent and really know the language are passing away so quickly. It’s really sad to see.”
So, Shayawdustee is doing all she can to help the language live on for her children, her students, and for future generations.
This fall, Shayawdustee is headed into her ninth year of teaching. She started off with Kindergarten, but then realized her passion lies in teaching language. So in 2017, when Bertha Moose, the previous language teacher, wanted to retire, Shayawdustee took on the role as a trainee to learn to teach Language and Culture at Takhini Elementary School in Whitehorse.
To strengthen her skills, she enrolled in the First Nations Language Proficiency Certificate Program at the Yukon Native Language Centre. There, she mentored under Elders and peers to learn Southern Tutchone.
Shayawdustee completed her initial course in 2020. She also received recognition of the completion of her certificate from CYFN and SFU, alongside KDFN Elder Louie Smith who received a fluent speaker award, and other Yukon First Nations language speakers. Now, she is on the verge of graduating with her Diploma in First Nations Language Proficiency.
“My ancestors before me, including my grandparents, used to speak more than one language,” she says. “I wanted to learn the language because I want to be able to teach it to others, and to use the language at home and in my community.
“It’s a vital piece of who I am as a KDFN citizen.”
And while Shayawdustee works hard toward completing her coursework, she balances her full-time teaching career, and being “a full-time mom”.
It can be challenging, but it also has big benefits.
“At night I listen to Elders’ stories and my son listens with me,” she says. “My son asks questions, like: ‘What’s she talking about? What does this mean? What does that mean?’ He’s genuinely interested in what’s going on.”
And that gives Shayawdustee a lot of hope for the future of our languages.
“At the end of the day, we need to help create fluent speakers to pass the knowledge down,” she says. “It’s important to me because the language is a part of our identity as Yukon First Nations people.”
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