state and health of the Denes¶øiné
languages vary across the seven Dene bands in Saskatchewan.
There are three Athabascan Dene speaking communities that
lie in the northern tip of the province. These communities
are Fond Du Lac, Stony Rapids, and Black Lake. Fond Du Lac
is located 60 km from the Northwest Territories (NWT) border,
while Stony Rapids is located 80 km from this border. It
should be noted that Stony Rapids is not a reserve, but
a government town, which accomodates at least 400 souls.
Black Lake is a reserve located 15 miles south of Stony
Rapids, and is home to 1200 souls. The fourth Dene speaking
community and reserve is Hatchet Lake, which is located
southeast of Black Lake Saskatchewan near the Manitoba border.
Churchill River and the northwest region of the province
accommodate the remaining three Dene reserves. These bands
are Buffalo River, Birch Narrows and Clearwater River. The
people who reside in Clearwater River are part of the La
Loche Municipal Community. While La Loche is not a reserve,
it is however one of the strongest Dene speaking communities
Lake Saskatchewan has a population of 1200 people. The children
in Black Lake speak their first language fluently. Many
of them are learning how to read and write in Denes¶øiné
as it is part of the curriculum. But much of the old language
is gone from the tongue of the younger generation and can
only be retrieved through the elders who are still alive.
It has been along time since the old language was spoken
by the Athabascan people. It is a complex language and much
of the ancient words have disappeared. English language
usage in the north is gradual as opposed to southern Saskatchewan
and this is due to the fact that many parents prefer to
use the Dene language as a daily tool for communication.
It is essential that first language be used daily so that
the children continue to hear it. It is so pleasant to hear
language used in communication between toddlers, youth,
parents and elders. After careful observation, it is safe
to speculate that the Dene first language is healthy and
thriving in the community of Black Lake. The Dene Language
Retention Committee is helping to make sure we do not lose
the Dene language in the future. The Dene Language Retention
Committee consist of educators who are fluent in their first
language and some are also parents. Therefore the committee
is sensitive to the importance of first language acquisition.
To many First Nations people across North America, it has
been a rude awakening. Language loss came up like a stranger
in the night and many First Nations people were not fully
aware of its consequences. It is just recently that we became
fully aware of the priceless gift of language from the Creator
that kept our ancestors alive for thousands and thousands
Rapids Saskatchewan is a municipal community located in
northern Saskatchewan. Many of Black Lake’s members
reside in Stony Rapids. The language is not as strong in
the community as it once was. The Dene Language was once
as healthy in Stony Rapids as it is in Black Lake, but since
the mid 1970’s the language has begun to deteriorate.
At present, only the Elders and people over the age of 40
are able to speak the language fluently.
Du Lac Saskatchewan
Fond Du Lac
Saskatchewan, situated 60 kilometres south of the Northwest
Territories border, has Dene language speakers. The old
language of our ancestors has deteriorated in this community.
The community speaks the ‘k’ dialect and is
the only Dene community that uses this dialect. The other
7 Dene speaking communities speak the ‘t’
dialect. Although the community has children who are of
school age that have picked up the Dene language, the
English language has nevertheless become very popular
in Fond Du Lac. Elders and people over age 40 speak the
language and use the Dene language on daily basis. The
school, which is operated by Denes¶øiné
First Nations, has a Dene language curriculum and the
language was being taught in school. The Dene Language
Retention Committee has been informed that the language
program was removed from the curriculum for reasons not
known. It is hoped that this is temporary.
Lake Saskatchewan has a full-time language teacher and a
language coordinator/consultant. The director of education
from this school is a member of the Dene Language Committee.
The Dene language seems to be in good health in this community,
as young children were observed speaking the language. There
is also evidence that the language is being used in this
community. The more speakers, the better, in every First
River is located on the northwest side of the province of
Saskatchewan, but more to the south of the four Dene communities
mentioned earlier. This community, with approximately 1200
Dene people, has almost lost the Dene language. It is considered
a language in crisis. Buffalo River has a modern school,
which is K– 12. The Denes¶øiné
language is being taught throughout these grades, however
many resources that are consistent and relevant to that
community are still needed. Language loss, in terms of the
language, can be partly attributed to the geographic location
of this community. Also, while its Denes¶øiné
language is similar to that of the four aforementioned northern
communities, it is nevertheless spoken slightly differently.
The pronunciations and different ways in which the four
communities speak are slightly different. Students understand
what is being said in the Denes¶øiné
language, but are often hesitant to speak it, because most
of them are not encouraged or are fearful that they will
be mocked. Through considerate observation, it was suggested
that the community spoke by using some slang words and what
linguists call informative language use. This is when words
are either cut in half and made easier on the tongue to
pronounce. Buffalo River is not the only Dene community
that displays this type of language use throughout the north.
This is exactly why it is critical to sit down with the
Elders and begin recording the full word (s) and to begin
teaching the children the correct pronunciation and usage.
Narrows is another Dene community that will need a lot of
encouragement and assistance in order to regain their Dene
language. The Dene language committee was also informed
about the crisis this school and community are facing in
regard to their first language. We need qualified immersion
program developers to start a language program that can