UAF’s Interior-Aleutians Campus Revitalizing the Denaakkenaage’ Language One Speaker at a Time

Ian Esmailka (age 9 right) is joined by his sister Lily (age 5 left) and his mother Trisha (center).

Call 888-474-5207 if You Are Interested in Classes

By Kim Wolf

Led by elder Marjorie Attla, nine Galena residents, including 9-year-old Ian Esmailka, are doing their part to help revitalize Denaakkenaage’ (Koyukon Athabascan language). The Galena residents were part of UAF’s Interior-Aleutians Campus’s ”Everyday Conversational Central Koyukon Athabascan” non-credit language class held in Galena April 19-May 1.

Alaska Native language revitalization efforts have been developing across the state. Only an estimated 200 North American indigenous languages still survive. Linguists say another 100 of these languages have already vanished with dozens more at the brink of extinction. Most of the surviving languages are spoken only by middle aged and elderly tribal members, reports the Associated Press.

“(Learning your native language) gives you a good feeling to do something your ancestors did, and to be able to do it yourself, and pass it on to your kids,” says Attla who taught the class. “It also makes you a better person, to know something that even your parents or grandparents may no longer know. It gives you an energy.”

The Denaakkenaage’ class included six sessions, covering a variety of conversational topics: self/family introductions, weather terms, animal names, words for feelings. Attla also created a language booklet for reference with Athabascan alphabet pronunciations.

“You can see how happy the students are to learn about part of their culture and who they are as a family,” says Attla.

The final class session required each student (even 9-year-old Ian) to prepare and present a five minute presentation in Denaakke', on a subject of their choice. This was followed by a potluck dinner of traditional Alaska Native foods. After the meal, Attla entertained the class by telling stories and performing a song, taught to her by her late grandfather and step-father.

Attla is renown throughout the community for her volunteer efforts to preserve Denaakkenaage’. Every Sunday evening, she produces and hosts the "Athabascan Hour" that is broadcasted by Galena's local public radio station, KIYU.

“The reason I do the Athabascan Hour, is to keep my first language alive,” says Attla. “It keeps me grounded in my heritage. It’s important to give the knowledge and language back to the next generations so it doesn’t die. The language is part of your personality, tells where you come from. The culture is important to know because it helps you understand new phases in your life. It gives a person the incentive to learn more. Understanding your language and culture helps to keep you healthy and productive.”

If there is enough interest for a future class, I-AC would like to offer another class in the Fall that would be offered in-person and using Google Hangouts. For more information, call 474-5207 (in Fairbanks) or toll free 888-474-5207. Visit us at and Like us on Facebook.

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