The Dinjii Zhu’ Ginjik (Gwich’in language) is one of the most endangered Aboriginal languages in Canada. It is the most endangered Athapaskan (Dene) language in the NWT. Due to the encroachment of English into all aspects of daily life, only a small number of our elders and a few determined individuals continue to use the language on a regular basis. It is very rare to hear our children speak their language. Statistics provided in 1998 by the Government of the Northwest Territories bear witness to the seriousness of the situation. Of the 2,397 Gwich’in beneficiaries in the NWT, only 40 people (2%) spoke the language in their home and only 312 (13%) reported they could speak the language.
Efforts to record and revitalize the language are a vital part of the work at the GSCI although we recognize that we have a challenging task ahead of us. All GSCI research projects have a language component whether they are recording Gwich’in place names and oral history, traditional plant use, life stories or the replication of traditional material culture. The products of this research plus language dictionaries, immersion camps and language mentoring are ways in which we are working to revitalize the Gwich’in language.
GSCI is also developing a K-12 second language curriculum in partnership with the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre and the Beaufort-Delta Education Council. On the political front, we recently contributed to the Review of the Official Languages Act in the Northwest Territories.