Tribe Hosts Dena’ina Virtual Workshop for Early Language Learners


Jolene Sutherland, left, and Dena’ina elder Helen Dick during a Dena’ina language class at Kenai Peninsula College in 2014. Dick is one of the few Dena’ina language speakers to have learned the language in his childhood. (Jenny Neyman/Redoute Reporter)

Learning any language can be intimidating at first.

Will Norton, a language teacher from the Dena’ina community of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, said sometimes getting started is the hardest part. That’s what he hopes to address during a virtual Dena’ina language workshop later this month.

“While this course is really just the basics, what we’re trying to do is give people a platform to really start learning and go as far as they want,” he said. he declares.

The Kenaitze Indian Tribe received a two-year Emergency Native Language Grant from the American Rescue Plan Act to conduct free Dena’ina language workshops for beginners.

The series is part of a mosaic of language revitalization works by the Kenaitze Indian tribe. The tribe recently launched a Dena’ina Virtual Audio Dictionary and continues to offer adult language classes, through Kenai Peninsula College, and children’s language classes, in its new educational campus in Kenai.

“There’s kind of a gap, in terms of courses for adults who aren’t necessarily interested or able to take a full semester college course,” Norton said. “And that’s a pretty big group of people. So we’re trying to fill the gap with those classes.

This is the second of three community language workshops supported by federal funding. The first was in person – but Norton said the community also wanted a virtual workshop.

Norton and co-instructor Yvonne Flynn will brief attendees on Zoom on Dena’ina greetings, introductions, and basic vocabulary.

“It’s not the kind of thing where you have to be fluent,” Norton said. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of time, and of course we encourage anyone who wants to do it.”

But he said even learning a phrase here and there can be valuable — for the Dena’ina and others who live on Dena’ina lands.

“It’s always important to know at least a little about the language of where you live,” he said.

The Dena’ina Language Workshop is October 25-27, 5-6:30 p.m. The workshop is free and will be entirely remote, on Zoom.

To register, email Norton at [email protected]

Norton said if the workshops are successful, they would also consider longer-term deals. He said they are already planning workshops that will cover advanced grammar, as well as vocabulary related to the Indigenous Youth Olympics, next spring.

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