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Death to Cultural Knowledge? No Way…

by Isabel Ford

Just as environmental degradation is rearing its ugly head, so is the exponential extinction of humanity’s multifaceted world of culture and language. Of the roughly 6,000 languages being spoken in your lifetime, nearly half will not be passed down to the future generation. If one zooms out of the human perception of time and takes a look at what is going on, we can see that of the effect of 300 years of industrialization and globalization has allowed for nearly half of humanity’s cultures to go extinct!

However, as poet and anthropologist Wade Davis puts it, “This does not have to happen. These peoples are not failed attempts at being modern, quaint and colourful and destined to fade away as if by natural law. In every case, these are dynamic, living peoples being driven out of existence by identifiable forces. That’s actually an optimistic observation, because it suggests that if human beings are the agents of cultural destruction, we can also be, and must be, the facilitators of cultural survival.”

(Click here for an amazing video of Wade Davis giving a talk called “Cultures at the far edge of the world”)

The Tr’ondek Hwech’in culture is a culture threatened to become extinct. There are only a few Han (Han is the native language spoken by communities in Dawson City, Yukon and Eagle, Alaska) speakers left, due to the immense changes during the gold rush. However, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in have created many safeguards for the protection of their culture including adult language classes, a language program for youth at the Robert Service school in Dawson, and a bi-annual gathering at Moosehide (a little downstream on the Yukon River) in the summer.

Our English class got a chance to meet Tr’ondek Hwech’in beader, Dolores Anderson, last Monday night. She showed us some amazing beadwork that her grandmother, mother and she had done.

An example of Dolores Anderson’s beadwork – detail of a baby belt

Dolores talked about how her family passed down little tips and special meanings for her beadwork, and how she has been doing the same with her daughters and granddaughter.

Dolores Anderson is giving breath to her tradition one bead at a time; a wonderful example for those who wish to keep old knowledge alive.

school logos Emily Carr University Dawson City Art Society Nova Scotia School of Art And Design Yukon College Ontario College of Art University Alberta College of Art and Design Fraser Valley University Thompson Rivers Trondek Hwechin