Itoah Scott-Enns patiently explains how to say the words “sing to me” in Tlicho as her daughter’s blond ponytail bounces in and out of the frame.
By sharing her own education in short online videos, 30-year-old Scott-Enns is leading the way in a growing social-media movement to revitalizing Indigenous languages through teaching. The idea germinated at a circumpolar language symposium and she brought it home to Yellowknife in 2015. Today, her Speak Tlicho to Me Facebook page has 692 likes.
Scott-Enns said it is a very personal journey to learn her language, one which she is taking in a very public way. She said she missed out on communicating with her grandparents on her mother’s side, as they only spoke Tlicho. When her daughter Setiya was born, she became even more motivated to learn.
“When I had my daughter I felt like I was on a bit of a time crunch to make the effort to learn more myself to be passing on to her,” she said. “As I learn phrases and post them, I’m learning them with her, so she’s hearing the sounds and learning it at the same time.”
Scott-Enns said the language not only transmits Tlicho history and place names, but specific cultural tidbits about how the ancestors lived. She remembers a community member telling her of a place whose name translates into English as Open Mouth River.
“The name open mouth kind of makes it sound like it’s just the mouth of a river,” she said. “What that really means is in the evenings the fish would come up to feed with their mouths open, and our ancestors used to harvest them by spearing them right in the mouth when they would come up to feed.”
Speak Tlicho to Me is one of several language revitalization projects using social media to reach their audience. In the NWT, the Gwich’in Language Revival Campaign #SpeakGwichintoMe and Speak to Me in Deh Cho Dene Zhatie are also connecting with people through the internet.
Jacey Charlotte, the 23-year-old founder of the Gwich’in Language Revival Campaign, said the connections extend beyond borders.
“I love being told that it’s a positive movement,” she said. “Language revitalization is a thing and it’s happening before our very eyes … I have supporters across North America who frequently message me, from different backgrounds.”
Charlotte, who is originally from Inuvik yet now works in Yellowknife and studies in Whitehorse, grew up spending one hour a day learning Gwich’in in school, as well as being immersed in the language and culture. She said she often would come home arguing with her brother in Gwich’in and spent time with her grandmother, a fluent speaker.
She said Gwich’in people who didn’t grow up in Gwich’in Nation or moved away also keep in contact through her page.
Both Scott-Enns and Charlotte were inspired by The Saami Council, a non-governmental organization representing the Indigenous Saami people who live in the Arctic areas of Scandinavia, Finland and Russia. The council started #SpeakSamitoMe to make learning Saami cool for young people by utilizing social media.