Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
October 21, 2000 - Issue 21

Tlingit Teacher Passes on Language, Culture
by CBC Whitehorse's Shirley McLean.

At the age of 69, when most people have already retired... Lucy Wren decided to become a teacher. Now, at 83, the students at Carcross Elementary School are holding a special party... to say thank you to one of their favorite elders.

Wren decided she wanted to work in the local school, teaching the Tlingit language.

"I got to do something to pass on the language... I try anyway," she says. "Even at home I talk with my kids in the language. They don't understand, but they catch on."

She did so for 14 years. At her retirement party, she was rewarded with her students speaking the language. Wren was one of the first language instructors in the Yukon. Linguist Pat Moore met her for the first time in 1984. He says the Carcross school is losing a great teacher. "Working with Lucy was the first time I was convinced a person could actually learn Tlingit," he says. "She lays everything out, she makes you practice, she's very patient.

"She has a very clear voice, she speaks loud enough that everybody hears, she doesn't rush anybody."

Not only is Lucy Wren an assest to the community of Carcross but she's an inspiration to many of the other Yukon Language instructors.

She is fluent in Tlingit, Tagish and Southern Tuchone. Wren has spent many years with Yukon College developing language books and classroom teaching tools.

"I think it would be much better if they know how to talk their language," she says. "

Lucy has taught many of the kids in Carcross, not only the Tlingit Language but also traditional dances and songs... Colleen James is one of Lucy's first students and also her granddaughter.

"She's taught me a lot, it was really good working with her," she says. "She taught me a lot about how the school and rules work as well as the language centre and how they like to apply things."

James learned her language lessons well. She has filled in for grandmother in the classroom from time to time. James also learned why it was important for her grandmother to do this. "I think it was out of love, and the feeling of the need as important as a language," she says. "It was a commitment to her people that's kept her in here as long as it has.

"I've often wondered gee, she's getting on in age, I wonder why she doesn't give up. But you can't tell her what to do, she has a mind of her own."

Wren's hard work and dedication was recognized throughout out the retirement celebration.

Richard Sidney spoke on behalf of the Dawka Nation. The nation that represents the three Tlingit communities in the Southern Lakes.

"The message we receive from the elders of Dawka is that we must preserve, protect and practice the Tlingit language," he told the crown. "This is where we find our heritage, culture, and traditions."

And it's those sentiments that inspired Lucy Wren twenty years ago to bring the language of her ancestors into the classroom.

Central Council of the Tlingit-Haida of Alaska
Tlingit Culture



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