While fluency would be optimal, South Slavey speaker and instructor Dorothy Buckley said a little bit of language can go a long way.
“Everyone here should know some simple phrases and sentences for whatever field we’re working in,” she said at a South Slavey class, hosted at Aurora College Feb. 5. “From nurses working with elders to employees at the bank, just a few little greetings would make a big difference.”
Buckley has been teaching South Slavey to students of all ages and backgrounds for years, and while she herself is fluent, she said she sees the number of people with more than a passing knowledge of the language is shrinking rapidly. The arts and culture teacher at both Princess Alexandra and Harry Camsell Schools, she also tried to run a program out of the Dene Cultural Institute in the fall. When that didn’t work out, she moved across the river and resumed classes last Wednesday at Aurora College where they will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, from now on.
“It’s so important to keep the language alive,” Buckley said. “We have to keep using it.”
She was pleased to see people who work at the schools come out for the first session, along with a few workers from occupational therapy. She said, however, there is still a lot of work to be done to make everyone feel welcome and accepted.
“The schools are pretty good,” she said. “But there should be someone always around at the hospital and the clinic, either talking to patients or maybe helping nurses learn a few little greetings. It’s amazing how much of a difference it can make to some elders who now have to be in care.”
Klaudia Mika, a French language assistant in Hay River’s three anglophone schools, said she wants to improve her understanding of South Slavey mainly to connect with the kids she teaches, but also to expand her own horizons.
“I love learning languages,” she said. “But it’s really important to be able to communicate with people in their own language, it’s just respectful. It’s also the best way to really learn about a culture that’s not your own, I think.”
Buckley said she was pleased with the turn out for the first class and hopes more people join along the way.
“Whoever wants to learn, that door is open to them and I will, by all means, teach them,” she said. “We need to keep the language going with our people and the whole of Hay River.”