Our Elders

Elders from the Yukon and neighbouring areas have contributed in many ways to the work of the Yukon Native Language Centre. For example, they provide information which aids in language documentation, they make recordings from which teaching materials are developed, and they offer guidance in training sessions.

Charlie Peter Charlie

Charlie Peter Charlie

Born in 1919 in Crow Flats, the eldest of Mary and Charlie Tetlichi's nine children, Charlie spent his childhood around the head of the Porcupine River. He grew up speaking the Gwich'in language and learning the traditional ways of hunting, fishing and trapping. These he has passed on to his 14 children and many more grandchildren. Four years after returning to Old Crow in 1935 he married Fannie Tizya.

Charlie with fiddle

At the early age of 37 he was elected chief, a post he held for 12 years. He has also been band councillor. Charlie was a key figure in the creation of the Council of Yukon Indians, in the establishment of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, and was involved in early land claims discussions. For 20 years he worked as the school custodian. With his knowledge of the Old Crow area, Charlie has served as guide and consultant to several generations of anthropologists, archaeologists and other researchers working in the Yukon. Since the mid-1970's he has been recording oral traditions and contributing to Gwich'in language documentation and development with the Yukon Native Language Centre. He has made significant contributions to the recording and understanding of place names in the traditional lands of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation of Old Crow.

About 60 years ago Charlie taught himself to play the fiddle and was for many years the lead fiddler at the International Athapaskan Fiddle Festival held annually in Alaska.

In 1988, at age 69, his many years of service to the community of Old Crow, to Gwich'in language and traditional knowledge, and to the Yukon as a whole were recognized as Charlie Peter Charlie was admitted to the Order of Canada.

Charlie Peter Charlie passed away in November 2008.

last revised 20 May 2010

Gertie Tom

Gertie Tom

Gertie Tom was born and grew up in the Big Salmon River region of central Yukon Territory, Canada. In 1948 her family moved to Whitehorse, where she still lives today. Her Northern Tutchone name is Et'áts'inkhälme and she is a member of the Crow Clan.

My Country: Big Salmon River

Mrs. Tom has been involved in native language work, directly and indirectly, for twenty-five years. From 1961 to 1965, she worked as a part-time translator and broadcaster for CBC radio in Whitehorse, and during the late 1960's and early 1970's was employed as a Community Health Worker by the Northern Health Service. In the latter job she used her knowledge of her native language to assist doctors and nurses in communicating with older Indian people. During the summer of 1977, she served as an occasional translator for the Alaska Highway Pipeline Inquiry.

Signing copies of her book

In 1977 Mrs. Tom began working as a Native Language Specialist with the Yukon Native Language Centre. She assisted in the development of a practical alphabet for Northern Tutchone and was actively engaged in the writing of various booklets and materials. These include: Dùts'um Edhó Ts'ètsi Yu Dän K'í = How to Tan Hides in the Native Way (1981), Èkeyi: Gyò Cho Chú = My Country: Big Salmon River (1987), a student's noun dictionary, conversation lessons in Northern Tutchone, and an extensive collection of traditional stories, hers and those of several elders living in the Carmacks region. She has recorded a set of language lessons in her dialect which has been published by the Centre in the Language Lesson Booklets and Tapes series.

Excerpt from: My Country: Big Salmon River

Big Salmon excerpt

In 1986 Mrs. Tom received a Native Language Instructor Certificate from Yukon College, Whitehorse, signifying her successful completion of the three-year training course.

Since her retirement in 1992 Mrs. Tom continues to make valuable contributions to native language teaching and documentation as the Centre's founding elder. In 2004 her Northern Tutchone Language Lessons appeared on the YNLC web site with all newly recorded audio material. In 2007 she recorded the excerpt above from My Country: Big Salmon River which can be heard if you click on it.

last revised 26 April 2005

Bessie John, Nelnah, 1923-2000

Bessie John

Bessie John of Beaver Creek, was a well-known Yukon elder who worked for years teaching and promoting the Upper Tanana language and culture.

Bessie's traditional name was Nelnah, and she was a daughter of the late White River Johnny (also known as Little John). Bessie was born at Nìį'ìį (Sourdough, Yukon) and lived at Tayh Chìį and other traditional sites in the Scottie Creek drainage.

During the Council for Yukon First Nations general assembly at Aishihik in 1989, it was Bessie's uplifting and emotional speech that convinced the chiefs to accept the White River First Nation as the fourteenth Yukon First Nation at the land claims table.

In 1989, Bessie began teaching the Upper Tanana language at Beaver Creek School. She was a member of the 1992 graduating class of the Native Language Instructor Certificate Course at Yukon College.  After retiring from her position at the Beaver Creek School in 1993,  she continued to assist in language and cultural instruction, helping, in 1995, to produce the Upper Tanana-Scottie Dialect Glossary.

In 2004, her contributions to community life were recognized when the school in Beaver Creek was renamed the Nelnah Bessie John School.

last updated 17 March 2008

Ruth Welsh †

Bessie John

YNLC hosted "Remembering Ruth Welsh" on November 29, 2012 at the Yukon Native Language Centre, led by Mr. Allan Hayton. You are invited to view the following pdfs from the event:

Agenda

Remembering Ruth Welsh

Left: published in the Yukon News Jan 2012

Margaret Workman

Margaret Workman

Content to come