The Sm'algyax Language Learners group sings a Christmas carol in Sm'algyax, the language of the Tsimshian people, on the one-year anniversary celebration of the group's beginning. Standing is Nancy Barnes, one of the group's organizers.

The Sm'algyax Language Learners group sings a Christmas carol in Sm'algyax, the language of the Tsimshian people, on the one-year anniversary celebration of the group's beginning. Standing is Nancy Barnes, one of the group's organizers.

Sm’algyax group celebrates year

  • By MARY CATHARINE MARTIN
  • Monday, December 5, 2016 10:31am
  • NewsSchools

A year ago this time, the students in the Sm’algyax Language Learners group in Juneau were reviewing vocabulary in the language of the Tsimshian people. On the one-year anniversary of their first meeting, they’re ready to start putting together sentences, said organizer Alfie Price.

The anniversary meeting on Nov. 19 started out with each student introducing themselves, saying their name and background.

Bob Ridley told the group he could speak Sm’algyax as a child. Over 60 years of not using it, however, he forgot much of what he knew.

No matter their language background, that’s something the group members aim to fix.

The group got started with Tsimshian master carver and culture bearer David A. Boxley came to Juneau in August 2015 to do a four-day class on the language. In November, he returned and did a refresher, and Price decided to create an opportunity to practice more regularly.

Price, said fellow organizer Nancy Barnes, is the one who got the group going and keeps it going. (He also attends the Haida and Tlingit language learners groups in Juneau.)

Price said they feel lucky to have a dedicated group of around ten people who come to the workshops. Not all of them are in Juneau; some participants attend via Google Hangouts. One, Tawny Mayer, Price connected on Instagram via the hashtag #savesmalgyax. She’s conferenced in from places as varied as Olympia, Washington, Australia, and Standing Rock. Nov. 19, it was New Mexico.

Some are kids, as well — Joel Price, 9, Darlene White, 5, and others. Mique’l Dangeli, the new Alaska Native Studies professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, has attended; she is teaching a Sm’algyax course at the university next year, which many of the group’s students are excited about, Price said. Other times, fluent speakers have traveled to Juneau to share some of what they know with the group.

“We’re just frankly excited that we’ve lasted a year and are keeping going,” Price said.

The group welcomes new members — there was even a first-timer there Nov. 19. They meet each Saturday from noon to 1 p.m. at the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s Edward K. Thomas Building conference room, 9097 Glacier Highway.

Contact Capital City Weekly editor Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@capweek.com.

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