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Learning to read at 86: Yukon elder and his tutor receive literacy award

Kwanlin Dun First Nation Elder Louie Smith and his English tutor Ted Ackerman are this years recipients of the Council of the Federation Literacy Award.

Kwanlin Dun First Nation elder Louie Smith and his tutor Ted Ackerman receive this year’s Council of the Federation Literacy Award from Yukon Premier Sandy Silver. (Mike Rudyk CBC)

You’re never too old to learn.

Just ask 86-year-old Kwanlin Dun First Nation elder Louie Smith, whose lifelong dream was to learn to read in English.

After four years spent working with Ted Ackerman, a tutor-volunteer with Yukon Learn, the two were recognized at an award ceremony in Whitehorse. They are this year’s recipients of the Council of the Federation Literacy Award.

The national award recognizes outstanding achievement, innovative practice, and excellence in literacy.

“I had a little bit of trouble with my eye and a cataract bothered me a little bit, but I’m doing my best and I started learning how to read a little bit now,” said Smith.

He says he can now go to a bank ATM and take out cash because he now knows how to read.

Smith was raised in a traditional lifestyle living off the land. His father taught him Southern Tutchone and Northern Tutchone. English is his third language.

The national award, presented in Whitehorse on Tuesday, recognizes outstanding achievement, innovative practice, and excellence in literacy. (Mike Rudyk CBC)

Ted Ackerman says for him, it is a two-way tutoring partnership. He says Smith has taught him about First Nations culture and the Southern Tutchone language. Together, they have preserved oral stories in the Southern Tutchone language, with the support of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation.

“Louie is highly literate in Yukon First Nation culture, so this is truly a … marvellous learning opportunity for me,” said Ackerman.

The two have become good friends over the past few years and continue to meet twice a week at the Kwanlin Dun First Nation Kenädän Ku House of Learning.   

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