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In the Northwest Territories, Gwich'in is the weakest of the Dene languages. According to the Canada Census, during the period 1986 to 1996, the home language to mother tongue ratio for Gwich'in dropped from 57% to 15%. In effect, for every 100 people who learned Gwich'in as their mother tongue, only 15 still use it regularly at home and are therefore passing it on to their children or grandchildren. Without a rapid and effective intervention, it is possible that the usage category for this language will become "obsolete" within a generation or two.

Gwich'in is the primary Aboriginal language of Dene text image 1 (Fort McPherson) and Dene text image 2, and is one of two Aboriginal languages used in Aklavik (along with Inuvialuktun). There are also Gwich'in speakers in the Yukon and Alaska. According to the 1996 Census, the number of mother tongue speakers in the Northwest Territories is approximately 260. The number of home language speakers is listed as 40.

In Part 2 of the Language Report (1992), it was noted that only 4.5% of the people interviewed during the study used Gwich'in as their home language. For 96% of respondents, English was identified as the dominant language in the home.

With this few speakers, the primary goal for the Gwich'in language for the past few years has been "preservation":

  • ensuring that the language is recorded and documented in its original form; and
  • gathering and documenting the stories and cultural traditions of the elders before they pass away.

Cultural awareness activities, with a language component, have also taken place.

The challenge for Gwich'in language activists is to build the commitment required from individuals, families, and government – including Aboriginal governments – to collectively take the next step to language revitalization.

According to the Dene text image 3 (the Gwich'in Language Plan, 1999) revitalization of the Gwich'in language requires the following actions.

  • Coordination of Gwich'in language initiatives through a regional language office.
  • Development of regional polices to support language revitalization.
  • Expansion of interpretation and translation services.
  • Further documentation of the language.
  • Coordination of school language programs through the Gwich'in language office.
  • Expansion of community-based programs and services.

Pie graph - Gwich'in language

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