U.B.C. is working on a long
term project to create a Kaska dictionary
Donnessy is working with a linguist at the University of
British Columbia on a Kaska dictionary. (CBC)
A team at the University of British Columbia
preparing a dictionary of the Kaska language is relying, in part,
on Watson Lake, Yukon elder Mida Donnessy to provide pronunciation
and context for the Kaska words.
Donnessy described her work through Linda McDonald,
"She said we work with the linguist, he
records us and he writes it down," McDonald translated. "And
why do we do this? She says for the kids. For the kids, yeah."
Kaska speakers primarily live in Watson Lake
and Ross River, Yukon, and several small communities in northern
Through McDonald, Donnessy said that the number
of people who are fluent in Kaska is dwindling, saying that she
"just went to two funerals within three weeks, two of my
cousins. They're sisters, both fluent. One didn't speak English
"To go to their funerals, that's what hits
you really hard. Not only losing them, but you're losing that
connection to the past," McDonald translated. "All that
knowledge. all that information. That's what I think about when
I'm doing this. The urgency of it."
Donnessy works with the linguist at U.B.C. at
least twice a week. The university also operates a
Kaska language website, in partnership with the Kaska First
Nations and the First Nation Language Program.
This website was created to house the Kaska language materials
from the Kaska language courses that are jointly sponsored by
the First Nations Languages Program (FNLG) at the University of
British Columbia and the Kaska First Nations. The website is available
for use by students in the language courses, by Kaska community
members, and by others interested in learning Kaska.