The Tłı̨chǫ Constitution speaks to preserving and protecting language, culture and heritage, in the words of Monfwi, “for as long as the land shall last.” Efforts to preserve language and culture parallel our governments’ efforts to protect land, water, and wildlife. As values they speak to our deep spiritual connection to the land as expressed by one of our elders, Elizabeth Mackenzie, “We are from the land…We are the land.” (Dene Kede: Education: A Dene Perspective, 1993, p.9).
Over the past few decades great changes have come to all our families and communities. Anecdotally, we know that Tłı̨chǫ language use is declining dramatically. At one time not so long ago, all Tłı̨chǫ children entered school fluent in our Tłı̨chǫ language, and learned English as a second language. Today most children in all our communities enter school with English as their only language. The decline of language use among children is matched by a decline in participation in traditional activities by families, and the passing of elders from many homes.
The decline of language use is noted in research around the world as a threat to the survival of minority cultures. Language is the vehicle through which cultural values, ethics and spirituality are expressed, and traditional knowledge and skills are practiced. With language loss, communities lose the vital knowledge of the specific and intricate knowledge of their ways of life accumulated over generations. In our Tłı̨chǫ communities, we know that as our children are involved in less and less of our culture and way of life, the “domains” of their language shrink from knowledge of the skills, attitudes and way of hunting, fishing, traveling on the land, our history, heritage and spirituality, to a limited community language that is a tragic form of language loss. Research states that language loss can damage the identity of our youth, and is related to the troubling health and other issues facing many First Nations.
The Cultural Coordinator position is intended to implement, research and report on Tłı̨chǫ culture and language initiatives and support the renewal of Tłı̨chǫ language use and cultural activities.