This language was spoken in the southern lakes area of the Yukon, mainly at Marsh Lake, Carcross and Tagish Lake. Linguistically, Tagish is closely related to Kaska and Tahltan. There are just a few individuals remaining who retain some knowledge of the language, among them Lucy Wren. Besides her work as Tlingit teacher, Lucy has recorded audio material at YNLC which has appeared in several formats including audio online language lessons and story books, a booklet and tape language lesson set, and computer story books. There are no school programs in Tagish.
Before the arrival of non-natives in the southwestern Yukon, the Tagish language faced pressure from the culturally dominant Tlingit language and was in the process of replacement. The Tagish people intermarried with the Tlingit and adopted their customs and language. Descendants of the Tagish identify culturally with the Tlingit. They have matrilineal descent, belong to either Wolf or Crow clans, and conduct potlatches. The few remaining passive speakers of Tagish are fluent in Tlingit.
The name Tagish itself is a place name which means 'it (spring ice) is breaking up'.
Some well known Tagish personalities were Dawson Charlie and Skookum Jim. They helped discover the gold which resulted in the Klondike gold rush. Patsy Henderson was Skookum Jim's sororal nephew and was in the Klondike area when gold was discovered, but did not assist in the actual discovery of gold. He was well known for giving lectures to tourists. Johnny Johns was a relative (cousin) of Skookum Jim's and a well known guide.
Angela Sidney was another relative of Skookum Jim's. She was a well known storyteller and one of the last fluent speakers of Tagish. Mrs. Sidney contributed probably more than anyone else to efforts to save the Tagish language from oblivion. She worked with a number of researchers over a period of more than thirty years to provide a record of the Tagish languge and culture. Among the earliest researchers was the anthropologist Catharine McLellan. Later, under sponsorship from YNLC, the linguists Victor Golla and Jeff Leer and the anthropologist Julie Cruikshank also worked with Mrs Sidney. Her tireless efforts were recognized nationally in 1986 when she was elected to the Order of Canada, the first Yukon native woman to be so honoured.
- Books by Angela Sidney:
Place Names of the Tagish Region, Southern Yukon
Tagish Tlaagú: Tagish Stories
Haa Shagóon: Our Family History
My Stories Are My Wealth. 1977. With Kitty Smith and Rachel Dawson. Council for Yukon Indians. (Out of print)
Other Tagish Materials
Eleven publications in and on Tagish are currently (2005) available from the Yukon Native Language Centre. Besides the first three books listed above, there is a Tagish Language Lesson Booklet and Tape set, there are Computer Books in each of the Moose Hunt, Drying Fish and At Home series, and there are corresponding Print Story Books for the Moose Hunt and Drying Fish. Four audio publications are online, an updated set of language lessons and three story books. A booklet has also been produced from the Tagish Literacy Workshop which was held at the Tagish Water Centre, August 10-14, 1994, under sponsorship from Aboriginal Language Services (Government of Yukon).