Kaska

Kaska is spoken in the southeastern Yukon in the communities of Ross River, Watson Lake and Upper Liard, and in northern British Columbia in the communities of Lower Post, Fireside, Good Hope Lake, Dease Lake and Muncho Lake. The Kaska language is closely related to Tagish, Tahltan and Sekani. There are some differences in the dialects of Kaska spoken in different regions. Fluent speakers can understand adjoining dialects but younger speakers often have more difficulty understanding more distant dialects. Although Tahltan, Tagish and Sekani are often identified as separate languages there is a high degree of mutual intelligibility between these languages and the adjoining dialects of Kaska.

The name Kaska is apparently derived from Kāskā, the native name of the Creek which joins the Dease River by the former settlement of McDames, British Columbia. The exact meaning of this place name is unclear. This name may have originally been applied to the people trading at McDames Post, and only later came to be identified with all the people who speak the Kaska language.

Historically Kaska traded and intermarried with both Tlingit and Tahltan trading partners. The ancestors of contemporary Kaska were already using guns and steel tools supplied by Tlingit traders when Robert Campbell and other white traders arrived. The names for some trade items, such as ūnē 'gun' are loan words from Tlingit into Kaska. In the later fur trade period the Kaska, especially in the Liard drainage, also interacted extensively with Slavey people of the lower Liard and Nelson Rivers. Cultural exchanges between Ross River and the Mountain Slavey of Fort Norman and Fort Franklin have renewed traditional ties between those communities as well.

The Kaska have two matrilineal moieties, called Crow and Wolf in English, which are often referred to as clans. Most Kaska are aware of their clan affiliation, but rules governing marriage and other forms of interaction between clans are less strictly observed than in the past.

The settlement of Kaska in large permanent communities is a recent phenomena. Most Kaska lived in small family camps until World War II when the Alaska highway was constructed and opportunities for wage labour rapidly increased. Many Kaska now work in resource related industries such as mining and lumbering. The Kaska have not completed an agreement with the Federal and Territorial governments regarding their traditional lands. They have sought to work with companies planning resource developments to reduce environmental damage and maximize economic benefits for Kaska people.

School Programs
There are Kaska school programs at Johnson Elementary School in Watson Lake, at the Watson Lake High School, and at the Ross River School in Ross River. There are also language programs in the schools in B.C. at Lower Post and Good Hope Lake.

Language Materials
Kaska are actively involved in efforts to maintain their language. In 1997 the Kaska Tribal Council published a two volume topical noun dictionary: Guzagi K'uge' (ISBN 0-9682022-0-9). The linguist primarily responsible for this work was Pat Moore. The Yukon Native Language Centre conducts annual Literacy Workshops in conjunction with the Kaska and produces teaching and learning materials. These include Language Lesson Booklets and Tapes, multimedia Computer Books and corresponding Print Story Books, and reports on the Literacy Workshops.

The image below is from the computer story book, Teaching the Kids at Simpson Creek, by Barbara Morris.

They are teaching a lot of kids.

Audio Storybooks

Josephine Acklack - At Home

Josephine Acklack - Frances Lake Girl (under construction)

Josephine Acklack - Living on Rabbits (under construction)

Doris Bob - Camping> (under construction)

Anne Mercier - Fish Camp (under construction)

Barbara Morris - Moose Hunt (under construction)

Barbara Morris - At Home

Learning Resources

About These Resources

This page provides links to digital copies of language lessons, literacy session booklets, and story books that have been prepared over the past thirty years by the Yukon Native Language Centre and Elders and community members from Kaska First Nations, including Liard First Nation and Ross River Dena Council in the Yukon. The work of all contributors to these materials is gratefully acknowledged here.

Recognizing the importance for Yukon First Nations governments, Elders, advocates, learners, and teachers of Kaska to have access to language resources, the Council of Yukon First Nations' Yukon Native Language Centre and Yukon Education's First Nations Programs and Partnerships Unit have worked together to provide the language materials below with assistance from Christopher Cox. While these digital resources are still in early draft form, and are being made available here for non-commercial, information purposes only, it is hoped that they will provide additional support for all those interested in studying, learning, and teaching the Kaska language. To order printed copies of any of these resources from YNLC, please consult the current catalogue of publications.

For detailed instructions on how to search, view, download, and print these materials, please see the language learning resources guide.

Search all print resources

Kaska Language Lessons

  1. Mercier, Ann, Jocelyn Wolftail, and Yukon Native Language Centre. 1994. Kaska Language Lessons: Watson Lake Dialect. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  2. Sterriah, Grady, Josephine Acklack, and Yukon Native Language Centre. 1994. Kaska Language Lessons: Ross River Dialect. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.

Kaska Literacy Sessions and In‐Services

  1. Yukon Native Language Centre. 1987. Kaska Literacy Training Sessions. Yukon Native Language Centre, Watson Lake 1986, Ross River 1987. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  2. Yukon Native Language Centre. 1990. Kaska Literacy Training Materials, 1988–1990. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  3. Yukon Native Language Centre. 1994. Kaska Literacy Session. Workshop held at the Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, April 27, 28, 29, 1994. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  4. Yukon Native Language Centre. 1995. Kaska Literacy Session. Workshop held at Watson Lake, Yukon, May 23, 24, 25, 26, 1995. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  5. Yukon Native Language Centre. 1996. Kaska Literacy Session. Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, May 15–17, 1996. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  6. Yukon Native Language Centre. 1999. Kaska Literacy Session. Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, May 6–7, 1999. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  7. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2001. Kaska Literacy Sessions. Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, May 18–19, 2000, April 18–20, 2001. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  8. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2001. Kaska Literacy Session. Watson Lake, Yukon, November 14–15, 2001. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  9. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2002. Kaska Literacy Session. Whitehorse, Yukon, May 22–24, 2002. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  10. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2003. Kaska Literacy Session. Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, May 13–15, 2003. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  11. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2005. Kaska Literacy Session. Held at Johnson Elementary School, Watson Lake, Yukon, May 11–13, 2005. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  12. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2007. Kaska Literacy Session. Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, May 2–3, 2007, June 7–8, 2007. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  13. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2008. Kaska In-Service. Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, February 26–28, 2008. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  14. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2009. Kaska Literacy Session. Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, April 23–24, 2009. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  15. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2010. Kaska Literacy Session. Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, May 5–6, 2010. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  16. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2011. Kaska Literacy Session. Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, May 2–3, 2011. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  17. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2012. Kaska In-Service. Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, April 26–27, 2012. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  18. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2013. Kaska In-Service. Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, February 27–28, 2013. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  19. Yukon Native Language Centre. 2015. Kaska Literacy Session. Yukon Native Language Centre, Whitehorse, Yukon, May 12–13, 2015. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.

Kaska Story Books

  1. Mercier, Ann and Yukon Native Language Centre. 1997. Kedā Kā Ejedeyáh. The Moose Hunt. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  2. Mercier, Ann and Yukon Native Language Centre. 1997. Łūge Kǫ́ą. The Fish Camp. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  3. Morris, Barbara and Yukon Native Language Centre. 1997. Tsídībū Edehchā́s. Tsídībū Goes Fishing. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  4. Acklack, Josephine and Yukon Native Language Centre. 1998. Eskǫ́ą. My Home. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  5. Acklack, Josephine and Yukon Native Language Centre. 1998. Łūge Kǫ́ą. Fish Camp. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  6. Acklack, Josephine and Yukon Native Language Centre. 1998. Zachary Kedā Kā Ejedéhyā. Zachary Hunts Moose. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  7. Morris, Barbara and Yukon Native Language Centre. 2001. Tʼų̄dzī Kǫ́ą. Tʼų̄dzī's House. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  8. Porter, Dennis and Yukon Native Language Centre. 2001. Łuwe Kǫ́. Fish Camp. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  9. Morris, Barbara and Yukon Native Language Centre. 2008. Ī́sā Dechen Tah Gédah. Ī́sā Goes to the Bush. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  10. Morris, Barbara and Yukon Native Language Centre. 2008. Tsī́łát Ejedéhyaʼ. Tsī́łát Went Hunting. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  11. Bob, Doris and Yukon Native Language Centre. 2008. Denē Dechen Tah Tsʼį́ʼ Déhyā. A Man Goes Out Into the Bush. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.
  12. Acklack, Josephine and Yukon Native Language Centre. 2008. Kesʼṓle Tedéhyaʼ. Kesʼṓle Goes to the Bush. Whitehorse, YT: Yukon Native Language Centre.

Related Language Links

The Kaska online “talking” dictionary has been developed in partnership with the Ross River Dena Council, Liard First Nation, The Daylu Dena Council, and Yukon Education through a SSHRC Partnership Grant and with the support of Heritage Canada and the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society through the Aboriginal Language Initiatives Program. It provides both text and sound for Kaska words and example sentences. The dictionary makes use of the Tshwane-Lex (T-Lex) dictionary database. Words and example sentences are being continually added to the dictionary and we hope to add a search function in the coming year.

Kaska Talking Dictionary


The Kaska language lessons were developed in partnership with the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society with support from Heritage Canada’s Aboriginal Language Initiative Program. The lessons include scripted conversations, and sentences illustrating language structures used in everyday interactions such as yes-no questions, information questions, positive and negative responses, direction terms and many other topics. The language lessons have been used in both adult language lessons in Watson Lake and in Kaska language courses at UBC. The lessons include both text and push-and-play sound.

Kaska Language Website