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“The land must be getting excited we’re doing this”: Wellbeing, Identity, and Reclaiming Language Through Connection to the Land

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Title:“The land must be getting excited we’re doing this”: Wellbeing, Identity, and Reclaiming Language Through Connection to the Land
Authors:Schreyer, Christine
Contributors:Schreyer, Christine (speaker)
Date Issued:02 Mar 2017
Description:In this paper, I discuss how language documentation and revitalization efforts have created a double sense of wellbeing in Taku River Tlingit territory – wellbeing for the community members, who are developing a stronger Tlingit identity, but also wellbeing for the land, which is growing stronger as people re-learn how to look after it. Drawing on Cruikshank’s and Thornton’s work on sentient landscapes in a Tlingit context (Cruikshank 2005; Thornton 2011), I explore how community members have intertwined their ideologies of language use and land use to create a complex, symbiotic understanding of language documentation and revitalization and stewardship. For instance, a Taku River Tlingit community newsletter from 2009 reads, “Elders say, the land is alive. We just have to have the conversation. How? Be on the land. Be alive in it. Listen and Talk” (TRTFN 2009:1) Building on past community research, I began a project about the importance of reclaiming Tlingit place names in this territory as a preliminary step to documenting Tlingit place names and associated stories about the land in 2010. I conducted interviews with a wide-range of community members on why place names are important and four main themes arose from these: 1) Place names teach you how to respect the land, 2) Place names give you pride, 3) Place names tell you about the land, 4) Place names let you leave your mark. However, a fifth theme was also present – Place names (and the land) help(s) you heal. In other words, learning about the land, via place names, provides a way for people to strengthen their identity as Tlingit citizens in the context of reconciliation and decolonization (TRC 2015). In fact, when I asked Susan Carlick how having Tlingit place names on official government maps might benefit her community, she replied, “It’s probably a really important part of our healing, you know, like who we are, that we would learn to talk to our land and call it the right things” (Carlick 2010). Susan was the most explicit in her reference to healing and her own wellbeing, but many other individuals referenced healing places on the land, as well as the way that learning about the land not only gives people pride, but also helps people develop a stronger sense of identity. This paper discusses the relationship between wellbeing, stewardship, and language renewal through documentation and reclamation of Tlingit place names and knowledge of the land. References: Carlick, Susan (2010). Interview with the author. Atlin, BC. September 1st, 2010. Cruikshank, J. (2005). Do Glaciers Listen? Local Knowledge, Colonial Encounters and Social Imagination. Vancouver: UBC Press. Taku River Tlingit First Nation. (2009). Community Newsletter. Unpublished document. Atlin, BC. Thornton, Thomas F. (2011). Language and Landscape among the Tlingit. In Landscape in Language: Transdisciplinary Perspectives, David. M. Mark, Andrew, G Turk, Niclas Burenhult, and David Stea, eds. Pp. 289-304. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. Truth and Reconciliation Commission. (2015). Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. TRC. Ottawa: Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 10 June 2015.
Appears in Collections: 5th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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