Southern Tutchone

Southern Tutchone, one of seven Athapaskan languages in the Yukon, is spoken in the southwestern part of the territory. The Southern Tutchone have always been highly mobile. Aboriginally, they moved about in small groups, annually adjusting their movements to changes in the ranges of caribou or moose, to salmon runs, or to ranges of fur-bearing animals. Their traditional areas ranged from theTeslin River in the east to the White River in the west, and from the lower Tatshenshini in the south to the Nisling River in the north. Today there are settlements at Aishihik, Burwash Landing, Champagne, Haines Junction, Kloo Lake, Klukshu, Lake Laberge and Whitehorse. Many of the Southern Tutchone people continue to spend part of the year in subsistence activites, hunting, fishing and trapping in their traditional ranges, such as around Dalton Post, Hutshi Lakes, Bear Lake, and the Nisling Valley.

Documentation and Literacy

The first systematic notation of the language was by Daniel Tlen, a Burwash native. He returned to his home community in the 1970's after studying linguistics at the University of Victoria and began recording relatives and friends. Assisted by Jessie Joe, Mary Jacquot, Copper Lilly Johnson and Lena Johnson, he compiled language lessons, a basic noun dictionary, and a collection of stories and songs in Southern Tutchone.

Literacy Workshops for Southern Tutchone have been held since 1984. Native speaker Margaret Workman documented her language and culture at the Yukon Native Language Centre for more than twenty years before retiring in 2004. She prepared and read the Southern Tutchone texts which are heard on the interactive place names CD Dákeyi. She prepared the material for a noun dictionary which will appear in print and on CD as a database with sound file examples for each entry. YNLC currently offers more than two dozen print and multimedia titles in and on Southern Tutchone. These include Language Lesson Booklets and Tapes, multimedia Computer Books and corresponding Print Story Booklets, and reports on the literacy workshops.

School Programs

There are or have been seven Southern Tutchone elementary school programs in the Yukon, at Kluane Lake School in Destruction Bay, at St Elias School in Haines Junction, and in Whitehorse at Elijah Smith, Takhini, Hidden Valley, Selkirk and Whitehorse Elementary schools. There is a secondary school Southern Tutchone program in Haines Junction, and Southern Tutchone language and culture courses are given in Whitehorse at Porter Creek and FH Collins.


There are distinct differences among the several dialects but all speakers can understand each other without any difficulty. The language has a rich sound system. Some dialects have as many as 43 consonants, including glottalized stops and affricates and ł (voiceless-l). All dialects have seven vowels, three diphthongs, and four tones: plain, low, rising, and falling.

Learning Resources

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Related Language Links

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Dákeyi — "Our Country"

Originally published on CD in 1996, Dákeyi was made available on the web in 2007-8.

The Southern Tutchone people have traditionally occupied a large region of southwest Yukon and adjacent areas of British Columbia. Their Athapaskan language is phonetically rich and tonal, one of the most strikingly beautiful languages spoken in North America. It has been taught in school programs at Burwash, Haines Junction and Whitehorse, and has been the focus of elementary, high school and college-level classes.

Place-names feature prominently in Southern Tutchone oral narratives, and virtually all their traditional territory is named in the language. Dákeyi (Our Country) was developed specifically to meet the needs of high school students and others studying Southern Tutchone language and culture.

Dakeyi Poster

The CD and now web format allows text, sound, colour pictures, and even movies to be combined to present information in an interesting and effective way. The ability to use sound is especially important where language is involved. Students today have diminishing opportunity to hear Southern Tutchone spoken. Longer passages in Dákeyi have an on screen controller which allows students to play parts repeatedly, at their own speed, to correctly master tone and other nuances of the language.

The Southern Tutchone region is divided into ten area maps. Each area map screen has from two to nine places indicated. More than sixty places have been researched and included in the project. Clicking on a placename on an area map causes it to be pronounced in Southern Tutchone. Clicking on the site button (or the menu at left in the web version) brings up a main screen for that place. This screen has Southern Tutchone text and three small photos of the place. The Southern Tutchone text can be played aloud, and different parts can be repeated as often as necessary. Clicking a picture enlarges it. These mostly colour photos help to make the places come alive. There is also English text which approximately corresponds to the Southern Tutchone and a Did You Know? section which often has some additional technical information or non native historical information about the place.

Lorraine Allen and Margaret Workman

Centre staff worked on this project for several years in the 1990's. The research was the most time-consuming component. Much of what has been uncovered is not recorded anywhere else. This information comes from the memory of living people. Centre staff interviewed a number of Southern Tutchone elders who are intimately familiar with each area. Elders were invited into the centre to work with maps and photographs of places. Visits and telephone calls were made to elders at home. There has also been extensive research of print and other materials in libraries and archives. Reports of early non native travellers can supplement or illuminate native traditional knowledge. For some places archival photographs have been used. There is one short film taken for Thomas A. Edison in 1899 showing the Whitehorse Rapids. These dangerous rapids were an important part of Southern Tutchone geography and they can no longer be seen because of the power dam. The film shows how dangerous they were. For each area, high quality photographs give an idea of the geography. At times adequate photographs can be made from the highways, but many photographs of hard to reach places had to be taken by helicopter.

Many more places could have been included in this project. There are aboriginal names for many geographic features which remain unnamed on maps. Much traditional knowledge of Southern Tutchone geography still waits to be recorded. It may be feasible in future to add other significant sites as the information on them becomes available. YNLC also hopes to be able to produce similar multimedia works for other language areas in the Yukon.

The teachers manual for the CD, Dákeyi Teaching Guide, is available from the centre in draft form. It was partly developed by Lorraine Allen who has tested both CD and manual in her Athapaskan culture and history courses at the F.H. Collins and Porter Creek Senior Secondary Schools in Whitehorse. Lorraine developed a set of worksheets, one for each map area, to use with her students. These are included in the web version.