Language & Heritage

Our traditional language is Dene Zhatie (South Slavey), an Athabaskan language. Dene Zhatie is spoken by the people of Jean Marie River, which is part of the Dehcho First Nation. Our culture includes our Dene laws, values and principles, all of which guide our lives. Everything – from how we make a living, our ceremonies, our art, the food we eat, and how we perceive the world – is influenced by our Dene heritage. Most importantly, what we believe and how we express our culture through our language are closely linked.

Many of our older adults learned the Dene Zhatie as their first language when they were children. For various reasons (i.e. forced change) we have switched to English as the home language. As a result, younger generations have grown up speaking English as their first language. This has created a language barrier between older and younger generations.

This type of language shift is the norm and is a critical concern for us. Dene Zhatie is on the brink of extinction, therefore language retention and revitalization is most important to Jean Marie River First Nation. The seriousness of this issue is reflected in our 2001 Community Plan and the recently revised 2013 Community Plan. The Community Plan has five main goals, one of which is to “maintain and use traditional knowledge and skills”. Embedded within this goal are three main objectives: Document/Preserve Traditional Knowledge; Promote and Support the Use of Dene Zhatie; and Teach and Encourage Dene Culture. Through these goals and objectives, we continue to honour and protect our Dene language and heritage.

Source: Margaret Ireland