French college students learn Ttłı̨chǫ Yati outside the classroom

On Monday, the students taking the Ttłı̨chǫ language class met their mentors. Now paired off one-on-one, they will practice the language through cultural activities. (Francis Tessier-Burns/CKLB).

You hear it all the time: Dene language and culture are inseparable.

And that’s what Collège nordique francophone students are going to learn through a new one-on-one mentorship program.

Earlier this week, the college held a gathering so students could meet the local knowledge keepers that will share the language with them.

The mentorship program is a new addition to the in-class Ttłı̨chǫ Yati course offered by the college. The goal is to get students practicing the language outside of the classroom.

To do that, the elders are encouraged to teach students to make crafts and learn bush skills—all while speaking in Ttłı̨chǫ, of course.

While most students said they were excited to learn a new language, the mentors said it was an opportunity to share and grow Dene culture.

Daniel Shen is one of the students; he works in health and wellness research. He said he signed up after realizing language plays a vital role in Indigenous wellness.

The one-on-one sessions will take place over the next five weeks and then start again next year.

‘Doing our part’

If all goes well, Josée Clermont, the college’s director, said it would like to expand to more Dene languages than Ttłı̨chǫ.

Clermont said she saw the college’s role as bridging Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures.

“Obviously we’re not the expert in the language but we do have knowledge in language teaching, so our role is bringing people together,” she said.

CKLB asked if Clermont saw any similarities in her experience of working in a minority language and keeping Indigenous languages alive.

While she saw some parallels in the passion to maintain the language, she acknowledged French is in a better place than many Indigenous languages by having federal protection and many speakers.

“This work is to hopefully do our part so the knowledge and the culture is being transmitted,” she said.

CKLB will be reaching out to students along their journey to see them progress in the language.

About the Author

Francis Tessier-Burns
Francis was a reporter with CKLB from January 2019 to March 2023. In his time with CKLB, he had the immense pleasure and honour of learning about northern Indigenous cultures.