Over the last couple of summers, I had the privilege of taking part in a large, collaborative project entitled Dane Wajich- Dane-zaa Stories and Songs: Dreamers and the Land. The theme for this exhibit was inspired by Elders of the Doig River First Nation and their desire to share stories that connect them and their grandchildren to the land. Our mission was to document the oral histories told in the Dane-zaa language (also known as Beaver), an endangered First Nations language spoken in British Columbia and Alberta. Other participants in the project included the youth of Doig River, anthropologists from University of British Columbia and Memorial University of Newfoundland, linguists from University of Cologne (Germany) and me, a doctoral candidate from the Linguistics Department at UW.
For one month, we traveled with Elders into the bush of the Peace River region to collect their stories. This video collection phase, funded by the Virtual Museum of Canada, has yielded a digital exhibit, an interactive webpage of video, audio, photos and texts. The English translations and subsequent transcription into the Dane-zaa writing system was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, a private institution that finances documentation of endangered languages. The exhibit has officially launched and can be found at http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions.
Thanks to the FLAS awards I have received from the Canadian Studies Center, my work with the Dane-zaa Elders, and my academic advisor here at UW, Dr. Sharon Hargus, I am able to continue my scholarship of Dane-zaa. This will enable me not only to achieve my goal of a PhD in Linguistics, where I will be investigating acoustic properties of lexical tone in Dane-zaa, but also to give something back to the Dane-zaa-speaking communities. It is my hope that materials assembled for my language studies, as well as for my dissertation, will aid in continuing efforts toward language documentation and revitalization within the Dane-zaa communities.
Julia Colleen Miller is a doctoral candidate in Linguistics and a Foreign Language and Area Studies fellow for the 2007-08 academic year pursuing fluency in Dane-Zaa, an endangered language spoken in Northern British Columbia. This is the first FLAS in the nation to be awarded for a First Nations language.