Traditional Alaska Native mask.

Morris Thompson Center launches the “Language Nook” with Alaska Native language resources

At the new “Language Nook” in the Morris Thompson Center, visitors can begin to discover the past, present, and future of Interior Alaska’s many and diverse Native languages. One can listen to Chief Peter John telling a traditional story in his language while following along in a written English translation; hear the life stories, in their own words, of some Alaskan heroes of language preservation and perpetuation; and one can sample online lessons, play language learning games, and pick up a kids’ coloring book with language learning built right in to it. The new display, intended to bring Native languages more fully into the Morris Thompson Center’s public exhibit about Interior Alaska ways of life, was made possible by collaboration and support from Doyon Foundation, Tanana Chiefs Conference, and dedicated volunteers.

A unique offering of this exhibit is a simple dice game called “animal names,” which can be used to teach – that’s right – animal names! Currently available in Gwich’in and Denaak’e, the game was developed by Doyon Foundation staff and was popular in the Denaak’e Dedeenee series of language learning activities for children and caregivers offered in the summer of 2019. At the language nook you can view the instruction video (embedded below) and try your hand at the game with a beautiful set of wooden dice. If you would like to try the game at home, you can download the language key and a set of three paper dice: Gwich’in, Denaak’e, and Animal pictures.

This new display is intended as a gateway to learning about Alaska Native languages, and even to actually learning the languages themselves. Those interested in learning should visit the language nook, and should also register for Doyon Languages Online, a free resource for students of Interior Alaska’s Native language. Whether you choose to come visit the language nook, sign up for Languages Online, or try “animal names” – or all of the above! – please share your thoughts and experiences about this project with us. Did you enjoy the interactive display and the game? What other resources would you like to see available at the Morris Thompson Center?

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