How Teaching a Language and Vine Go Hand in Hand

Here in Alaska there are numerous discussions around preserving Alaska Native cultures. Many elders are working hard to teach their children the traditions important to their ancestors. It’s something those of on the outside often watch with great interest. In many ways it’s no different than passing down our family traditions but seems more desperate. It’s because languages are dying along with the belief systems as Alaska Native people try to straddle old traditions and modern lifestyles.

Gonzalez Family at Horseshoe Hill just a few miles from Huslia, AK. L-R: Sarbelio, Ermelina, Angela and Janessa.

For some time now, I’ve been watching with great admiration as a fellow public relations professional and friend passes on the importance of family and her traditions to her daughters. By week Angela is on the public relations team for RurAL CAP, a nonprofit helping improve the quality of life for low income Alaskans. Social media is among her responsibilities there so she’s become proficient in many of today’s tools.

Angela regularly returns “home” to Huslia, her family’s Koyukuk Athabascan village, although her place of residence is Anchorage and her daughters are in public school here. They go home at various times throughout the year so her girls gain an understanding of their ancestors and really know their family.

Angela has had a blog for some time now called Athabascan Woman. There she provides us a glimpse into the lives of her family and her culture, her visits home and things meaningful to the family. Be sure to look at her “about” page where she introduces herself in the Alaska Native tradition. Check it out and learn more about the culture of the Athabascan people.

Recently, Angela began teaching her two girls their native language, Koyukon. She’s been using Vine to do this and it’s one of the most wonderful uses of the app I have seen. Not only are her girls learning their language but the lessons can be shared with others, and saved for the future. This weeks’ introduction of Instagram videos may cause Angela to change platforms but time will tell.

NPR recently had a segment about what happens to a culture when a language dies. This piece really addresses a lot of the problem people like Angela are trying to address. For those in our generation it was not “cool” to speak the Native language so many of them died. There is an entire generation who can’t speak the language of their grandparents so when they travel home, they are in one culture and the grandparents/elders another. They were cut off because they wanted a better life and felt the only way to do that was to embrace the cultures outside their own. That generation has worked hard for acceptance in the community but now understands the importance of teaching their children the traditions they were ostracized for celebrating.

I admire my Alaska Native friends who are trying so hard to show their families the importance of culture, and saving their family traditions for future generations. When they are public relations professionals using today’s tools to save yesterday’s treasures it’s even better.

Photo: (c) Angela Gonzalez

The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington


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