Last summer, about 20 Tssu T'ina youth
participated in a language program
called the Gunaha project. During
the day they
practiced beadwork, learned the
art of storytelling, played games, and
searched for herbs in the woods.
At night they explored the hunting ways of
These lessons serve as bridges between
youth and elders that helps revive their
Tsuu T'ina language.
At nine years old, Sonny Scout knows
just a few Tsuu T'ina words, such as
teepee and arrow. He
wants to learn more words "so if my
granny talks it, I can understand what
The small Tsuu T'ina reserve near
Calgary is the only place in the world
where Tsuu T'ina is spoken. It is
nearly extinct -- only about 40 members of the 2,000
band members still speak it. Most
Bruce Starlight helped organize his
tribe's new "gunaha", or language
program. "At my age, I need to give
this knowledge to somebody -- whoever
will listen," he said.
language expert Darin Flynn
says Tsuu T'ina is indeed in
"scary shape." He is, however,
excited about the sort of teachings
within the Gunaha Project.
The Gunaha project is run in conjunction with the
University of Alberta. The program includes a
printing press and audio sound studio
for tribal members to make Tsuu T'ina language
recordings to be preserved for
A language certificate program on the
reserve is also in the works, and the
Tsuu T'ina dictionary is facing a major
For nearly four decades, band members
have tried many ways to
preserve the language, but haven't
produced a single fluent speaker..
"As soon as you get something going,
something stops it," Starlight says.
The elder is hopeful the Gunaha program
will be different.
"We're serious about it," he
said." If we don't do it now, it's never going
to happen again."
The Gunaha project
has 10 full-time and three part-time
staff members. Adults are
already undergoing training twice a
It's difficult to say exactly why Tsuu
T'ina got to this crisis point.
Isolation played a role.
tells that a
quarrel between two brothers prompted
the Tsuu T'ina to part ways with their
Dene family in northern Alberta. The
migrated to the province's southern
region where they were surrounded by e
drastically different language groups,
the Blackfoot and Stoney.
Over time, band members married
non-natives and spouses from other
tribes who didn't speak Tsuu T'ina.
Residential schools also took their toll
"When the children are not learning the
language as their first language, the
language is beginning to die," says
former head of the University of
Starlight knows the real work has just
begin. About 41% of Tsuu T'ina youth are
under age 18.
"You need to create the atmosphere that
language is important, that identity is
important, that Tsuu T'ina culture is
important," he says.
Terence Starlight, 11, vows he'll try
his best not to forget what he's learned
about the language. His grandfather,
Bruce Starlight, has taught him well.
"No one can really speak it," he says.
"It's important because (if we) forget
everything about it, then no one will
know how to speak Tsuu T'ina."