New Map Features Yukon Native Place Names

WHITEHORSE -- A colourful wall map of the Yukon featuring many of its original native place names has just been released by the Yukon Native Language Centre.

In vivid shades of red, yellow, pink, orange, and blue, the map depicts the geographical boundaries of Yukon's native languages, and provides the traditional names for many of the territory's geographical features. The map, which will soon be available also in a smaller student version, includes a key to the place names, an inset map of North America showing the location of all the Athapaskan languages, and an attractive logo based on various beadwork motifs in Athapaskan and Tlingit art.

Designed as a teaching tool to promote knowledge of traditional Yukon culture and language, the map represents an encapsulation of twenty years of working with First Nations elders to gather data on place names, says Centre director John Ritter. "From the beginning of our work," says Ritter, "the elders insisted that place names be included as an integral facet of language study."

"The names are a unique tie to the landscape," he adds. "The names are what provide the link between the language, the culture, the people, and the land."

Over the years many Yukon elders, such as Charlie Peter Charlie from Old Crow, Harry Morris from Teslin, and Bessie Johns from Beaver Creek, have contributed to the documentation effort.

Some of those who provided information, such as Stanley Roberts of Dawson City and Sam Williams of Haines Junction, are no longer alive. "Thanks to their participation, we've been able to record some rare and unique information," notes Margaret Workman, the Centre's Southern Tutchone Specialist who has been intimately involved in place-names documentation.

As part of the Centre's literacy workshops, elders often provide information about place names, which are carefully recorded and translated with scrupulous attention to accuracy. "This map shows that there are names in all the languages for the various features that most people now know by English names," says Workman.

The Yukon River, for example, is known as Tagé Cho, or "great river", in Northern Tutchone, while in Kaska the Liard River is called Nêt'i Tué', meaning "the river flowing from mountains where sheep are snared".

In fact, the place names on the map represent only a portion of all those that have been recorded over the years, in order to preserve readability. An interactive version of the map is now being produced as well, which will allow users to hear the place names as the elders pronounce them. The interactive version will join another interactive multimedia CD on place names developed by the Centre, called Dákeyi: Our Country, which focuses on Southern Tutchone names, history, and traditional culture.

Cost of the wall map is $10, or $7.50 for the smaller student version. It is available through the Yukon Native Language Centre, Box 2799, Whitehorse, Y1A 5K4, phone (867) 668-8820 or fax (867) 668-8825. An order form is also available on the Centre's website: ynlc.ca.