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Steve Smith, chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, hopes a new immersive language program will increase the number of Southern Tutchone speakers. (Champagne and Aishihik First Nations) The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations in Yukon are developing an immersive language program to bring the number of Southern Tutchone speakers to where it was before First Nations people were forced to speak English.

"We are going to be in charge of what we do at Champagne and Aishihik," explained Chief Steve Smith of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, "because that’s the only way we can make a positive difference."

The federal government increased funding for Indigenous language programming to Yukon, the N.W.T., and Nunavut at the end of May. In Yukon, money goes to the 11 self-governing First Nations to administer themselves.

The self-governing First Nations governments will create and implement language programs with the money.

Three First Nations in Yukon do not have self-government agreements. Heritage Canada administers their language programming. Learning from Mohawk Kahnawà:ke language program

The Yukon government has, for many years, taught Indigenous language in schools, with the language taught corresponding to the First Nation in the area, Smith said. He said it’s a sign of reconciliation that the Canadian government recognizes First Nations need to be able to create their own language programming.

"The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations government really, truly believes that having a strong language and cultural foundation, really enables our young people to be way, way more successful than previous generations," Smith said.

A delegation from the First Nations government visited the Mohawk Kahnawà:ke Reserve, south of Montreal, to study its 17-year-old immersive language program. Smith said the Champagne and Aishihik program will be modelled on it.

The goal is for adult members of Champagne and Aishihik First Nations to gain proficiency in Southern Tutchone so they can, in turn, teach it to daycare students.

It will take a long time to get to that place, Smith said. But he said they’ll "leap-frog" many challenges by learning about the Mohawk program.

Stephen Reid is a member of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations who teaches Southern Tutchone in schools for the Yukon government. Reid will help develop the immersive curriculum, Smith said.

Smith said about eight students will take the full-day language lessons. The program should start at the beginning of January.

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