The Southern Tutchone of Canada

The Tutchone language is an Athabaskan language. Most of its speakers can be found in Canada. Even though some linguists view Tutchone as a single language, other linguists argue that there is a great variation between the northern variety and southern variety, that they can be considered as independent language. Southern Tutchone is spoken in the south western part of the Yukon territory. It has a number of dialects. This includes Aisihilik dialect, Klukshu dialect, Tàa’an dialect and Kluane dialect. There are differences among the dialects but speakers can easily understand each other. Language use is shifting to English. Now, it is mostly older adults who like to speak in Southern Tutchone as the younger generation prefers to speak in English instead. Southern Tutchone is also referred to as Skidgate.

The Southern Tutchone have always migrated from place to place. They moved around in small groups. Their subsistence activities include hunting, fishing and trapping. Their movements depended on the availability of animals to hunt and salmon runs along rivers. The Southern Tutchone can normally be found between the Teslin River in the east to Whiter River, in the west.

The first attempt to systematically organize the language was done by Daniel Tlen. He was a Burwash native. After he studied Linguistics at the University of Victoria, he returned to his country and began recording his relatives and friends. Together with the recordings he collected, he then developed course study materials for the Southern Tutchone language. He came up with a dictionary and a collection of stories. He was assisted by Copper Lilly Johnson, Lena Johnson, Mary Jacquot and Jessie Joe. This was in the 1970s. Since then, Literacy workshops for the language have been held since 1984. Margaret Workman is also a native speaker who documented the culture and language of the Southern Tutchones before she retired in 2004. She came up with print, audio and online publications, to help individuals who are interested in mastering the language. A number of school programs have also been started to help in propagation of the language. There are elementary schools in the Yukon territory that offer Southern Tutchone classes. This includes St Elias School in Haines Junction and Kluane Lake School in Destruction Bay.

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