A new video project released in the same month as National Indigenous Peoples Day showcases the Dene Zhatie language and its culture.
Nahe Náhodhe “Our way of life” in Dene Zhatie (South Slavey) consists of six short videos filmed at the Katł’o’deeche First Nation showcasing language, culture, knowledge and on the land activities.
Deh Cho First Nations (DFN) supported the production of the videos, which went live on YouTube and on the DFN portal on June 1.
Kristen Tanche, regional health and wellness coordinator with DFN, said it was a coincidence that the videos were released in the same month as National Indigenous Peoples Day.
“This is perfect timing,” she said with a laugh. “We originally planned to have them out in March but we hit some snags because of the Covid pandemic.”
The project is a deliberate effort to promote the use of Dene Zhatie and highlight the lifestyle of the Deh Cho people.
“We had this idea for a while. We tweaked it a bit for a proposal to the federal government for a project filming a language gathering and doing activities on the land, and for language resources,” said Tanche.
Violet Jumbo, language manager with DFN, worked closely with Tanche as a project coordinator for Nahe Náhodhe.
The six videos in the series include Dene laws, Dene laws and stories, camp set up, moose hide, plant wisdom and spruce tree.
They feature Elders speaking in Dene Zhatie while doing activities like scraping flesh off a moose hide, setting up a camp in the forest, stripping bark off a birch tree, collecting medicinal plants and berries and showing the uses of spruce trees, including the health benefits of spruce sap.
Each video is available in Dene Zhatie only and subtitled in English.
Public reception to the project has been very positive and the Elders featured in the videos were pleased with the result too, according to Tanche.
“Some of the Elders I’ve been talking to said how happy they are with the product and they want to do more of them,” she said. “In the communities themselves, the Elders said how amazing the videos look and how beautiful the shots are, that they give people chills and make them so emotional.
“I hope the videos will help us inspire language learners. I think the videos really demonstrated Elders’ knowledge. I think it’s a great chance to showcase our amazing knowledge in the region.”
As a follow-up to the videos, six booklets are scheduled to be published in July that will contain more language content. They will be available for download.
“I hope that new speakers will use them as tools. I hope the booklets will be used for revitalization too. A lot of things are so interconnected — language, culture and the land,” Tanche explained. “What a good way to learn on-the-land activities if you have the booklet and have the words for it, like when setting up a tent.”
She includes herself as among those spurred on by the project to continue learning her language.
“I’m a beginner but after spending time with youth and Elders at the gathering, I’m really inspired to continue learning. I would think other young people were inspired too,” she said.
Tanche believes the videos’ cultural impact is just as valuable.
“It’s so moving to see our cultural values and our ways being showcased in such a respectful way. I’m in my 30s and when I was growing up it wasn’t something we’d normally see. It wasn’t an era when I was proud to be Dene. But now I’m super proud to be Dene,” she said. “When I see the videos I realize how far we’ve come in society and even in our own culture.”
The videos will be transferred onto USB sticks and DVDs for distribution to people who don’t have reliable internet connections.
A crew of 23 people including cinematographers, translators and interpreters contributed to Nahe Náhodhe.
The project received financial support from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage’s Aboriginal Language Initiative, as well as some from the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning in Yellowknife. Dechinta also helped with some staffing.
Dene Zhatie had 1,443 speakers over the age of 15 as of 2014, the most recent year for which official language proficiency data is available, according to an NWT Bureau of Statistics report.
There has been a modest increase in Dene Zhatie proficiency since 1989, when there were 1,259 speakers over 15 years of age, the report shows.
Rylund Johnson, MLA for Yellowknife North, has pushed for more detailed reporting of NWT Indigenous language statistics. In the legislative assembly on June 2, Johnson urged that the GNWT create a division within the Department of Education, Culture and Employment that is committed to Indigenous language revitalization.
An additional $600,000 for language revitalization was allocated in the 2020-2021 territorial budget in the legislative assembly on June 10.