Growing up in Burwash Landing, Yukon, Nathan Easterson-Moore learned some of the basics of the Southern Tutchone language, but it was minimal.
In lessons at the community school, he learned the words used for some animals, greetings and other “small stuff,” he said. But that all ended when he moved from Burwash.
Now, for the first time since he was in Grade 8 — almost five years ago — he’s picking it up again, and getting paid for it too.
He’s among the 20 youth being paid to take classes full-time in their Indigenous language as part of a new program launched by the Council of Yukon First Nations, called The Youth Today: Language Leaders Tomorrow. The goal is to help keep Indigenous languages alive.
Over the course of a year, they’ll be learning the traditional languages of their communities.
This week, Easterson-Moore, who lives in Whitehorse and is a member of the Kluane First Nation, learned how to introduce himself in Southern Tutchone.
By the end of the year, Easterson-Moore said he wants to be able to have a conversation in Southern Tutchone.
“To be able to formulate sentences and have a conversation with maybe an elder from my community or other communities would be amazing and making progress,” he said.
While Easterson-Moore said he’s done some traditional practices, such as tanning a moose hide, part of what drew him to the program was learning more about his heritage.
“I wanted to learn more about my culture and Burwash in general,” he said.
Another mission of his is to dive into the history of Kluane.
“Because the park that has been set up there has kind of disconnected us from that part of the land, which is such a big area of our for our people,” he said. “I’d love to dive into that and try to figure out names and stories of the places so that it’s not forgotten.”
He said getting paid to study is a relief, as he can dedicate more time to learning rather than worry about how he will be able to pay his bills.
“My family has been excited that this has happened,” he said.
Shadelle Chambers, executive director of the council of Yukon First Nations, said the program was created to mentor a new generation of language leaders.
“I think it is the best practice in language revitalization to focus and target programs at young parents or parents-to-be,” she said.
Each student, she said, has a personalized learning plan that includes a combination of online classes and land-based learning.
In addition to Souther Tutchone, other students in the program will learn Tlingit, Kaska, Northern Tutchone and Hän.