A Glimpse into the Tlingit Language

Picture yourself stranded and helpless in an ocean, determined to reach a nearby shore. But colossal waves, one after the other, keep pushing you further and further from that shore. You’re determined to reach the coast, gradually getting exhausted of fighting the waves –- suddenly — you stop; the shore has vanished from the horizon and the waves have won… you’re now… well… lost. That’s how I’ve felt for the past 56 years; stranded, deserted and dried out. I’m Kaare Kiviaq and my native language, Tlingit, is moldering – every, single, breath.

My language is native to Northwestern British Columbia, Southwestern Yukon and Southeast Alaska, where I live. Sadly, the language is facing ‘critical’ linguistic extinction, with myself and 224 other speakers left. I’ve put immense amounts of effort into revive my language. I’ve went through struggle, hope, and subjection. Not much progress has been made. I fear my beautiful language and its haa eetí k̲áa, or its future speakers, perishing. As English novelist Angela Carter once said, “Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.”

But why does my gibberish matter to you? Language preservation is needed to protect beneficial cultural information, linguistic information, and most importantly – cultural identity. Preserving my language will protect useful medical and environmental information and most importantly — save the loving culture of 225 endeavoring people.

Wake Up. I beg you, please — wake — up. Languages in Canada, and around the world, are dying. Hell, one language dies every fourteen days! Language is everything that defines us. It connects us, brings thought to our heads, and makes us… well, humans. Try picturing yourself without a language… you can’t communicate! You can’t express yourself! You just time travelled back to the Stone Age, you’re thoughtless and mindless.

So what happened for the past couple years? Sure, progress has been made, there’s websites and videos teaching our language, there’s even a Tlingit course at University of Alaska Southeast. But this progress isn’t enough. Our speakers are still declining. Why?

For one, epidemics and disease in the 19th century, such as smallpox, caused many of our people to perish and abandon our traditions, which led to struggle and deaths leading to a decline in our speakers. This has left us hopeless.

Another detrimental contributor was the Canadian government threatening our language when it was assimilating our kids, cultivating our land and building residential schools in the 1800’s and 1900’s. Even worse, they didn’t ask for permission! Take the Juneau (1880) and Ketchikan (1888) settlements for example, or even better, the residential schools where they PECULATED our children. Miners invaded our settlements and turned them into a barren wasteland, we lost our homes for their greed which lead to our culture being permanently scarred. And oh, who can’t forget the assimilation of our children, putting them in the hands of ‘priests’ – more like SOCIOPATHS who mentally, physically, and emotionally exploited OUR children. Our children were distanced from their own traditions, language, and culture leading them to a cultural abyss. This has all lead to the decline we see today.

So I ask, why is this not deemed a crime? Why is our land being cultivated for this country’s greed? Better yet, do we have any rights as Native Canadians? I guess not. Sure, things have improved after indigenous laws were passed, but the damage has been done and history is permanent. Action needs to be taken now before it’s too late.

So what can you do?

  1. You can support organizations helping languages and cultures like mine, these include organizations such as Cultural Survival , UNESCO , or Cultures of Resistance.
  2. You can help raise awareness on Tlingit or language endangerment through blogs, videos, webpages, or social media posts.
  3. Best way to help — Learn it! You can learn Tlingit through online resources or taking the course at UAS. This has intellectual and educational benefits and will drastically help the revival.

This is a call to everyone, for the sake of my kids, my cultures, and my languages future. Please help.

Gunalchéesh. (Thank you)

tlingit-kids

My beautiful kids, Dika (left) and Patuk (right).

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2 thoughts on “A Glimpse into the Tlingit Language

  1. One word for you Kaare – modernize. Modernize yourself and forget your dumb language for gods sake, get with the program!! Why cant u native people learn to be normal Canadians and stick with a (read this out loud) MODERN language? Ur language means nothing, its useless, theres no “useful medical and environmental information” its all NONSENSE. If anything us, normal people, helping you will screw our economy. Its a waste of time helping close-minded folks like you. Haha what made me giggle is when you said “You’ve just travelled back to the Stone Age”, no my friend YOU and your useless natives have been and still are stuck in the Stone Age. Get it together, learn a useful language and start being Canadian because whatever ur doing is a waste of time.

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    • And two words for you Mr. Jones – Indigenous Rights. These “useless natives” you talk about were the first to grow our country, without them you and this country would be nonexistent. They grew in a culture and language of their own, just like you and I have, whether it’s popular (or what you refer to as “modern” and “normal”) or unpopular. Mr. Kiviaq and his culture deserve proper protection as discrimination, which is exactly what you’re doing, and “modernization” is destroying cultures like his in the first place. Constant abuse has permanently disfigured their language. In regards to their language being “useless”, Tlingit and its culture has provided medical insight on natural remedies and healing alongside with environmental information on intermittent or ephemeral rivers.
      And in conclusion, Mr. Jones, you are a disgusting human being and I hope you’ve learned something from a “normal” and “modern” human being.
      Regards,
      Angelica Rao, executive coordinator at Cultural Survival.

      Liked by 1 person

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