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Towards a multi-layered understanding of place in Dene: An inter-generational and inter-disciplinary approach to Dene narratives

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Title: Towards a multi-layered understanding of place in Dene: An inter-generational and inter-disciplinary approach to Dene narratives
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: This paper highlights the benefits of a community-based approach (see Czaykowska-Higgins, 2009; Vallejos, 2014) in a language documentation project in the Dene community of Délı̨nę, Canada. It describes the collaborative efforts of a community researcher and an outside linguist to develop joint research interests and ground them with other community members in the specific cultural setting in order to benefit all parties. We first outline our project and the factors that contributed to the success of our research approach, focusing on an inter-generational workshop. We then introduce our results and demonstrate how the setup of the research brought forward crucial insights to the specific knowledge of place in Dene.

After identifying with elders of the community historically and culturally important geographic locations, including the traditional name attached to each location, we learned from the elders the stories behind the name of each location. The deeper meanings of these stories are known to people who lived on the land but are often unknown to younger generations. We developed a methodology bringing together elders and younger generations in an inter-generational workshop and actively engaging both in the research process in order to contribute to capacity building in language documentation and revitalization. The workshop was facilitated by a community researcher and held in Dene to enable the documentation of interactional patterns and communicative practices. At the same time the outside linguist trained youth participants in language documentation methodology (eg. multi-media recording, Google Earth), which they were able to perform independently by the end of the workshop. Since many of the younger generation are not fluent in Dene, English summaries were given throughout the workshop. These summaries allowed the younger generation to follow the content of the stories while also witnessing cultural protocols. Despite the challenges of the language barrier, the presence of the younger generation highly contributed to the motivation of the elders.

In analyzing the complex relationships between an outside researcher and community researchers from diverse generations and backgrounds as well as among community researchers we conclude that it was the research set up and the reciprocal relationships, as well as the observation of cultural protocols that proved to be crucial in the production and analysis of natural, reliable and validated language materials. In giving concrete examples and reflecting the challenges of our approach this paper contributes to the theory of developing effective research approaches that engage citizen scientists from various backgrounds.


Czaykowska-Higgins, Ewa. 2009. Research Models, Community Engagement, and Linguistic Fieldwork: Reflections on Working within Canadian Indigenous Communities. Language Documentation and Conservation 3 (1). 15-50. []

Vallejos, Rosa. 2014. Integrating Language Documentation, Language Preservation, and Linguistic Research: Working with the Kokamas from the Amazon. Language Documentation and Conservation 8. 38-65. []
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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