People in Profile

Alice Rigney

Alice is harnessing the power of the internet to help keep the Dene language alive in the minds and mouths of her devoted students.

“My motivation is to keep my language alive,” said Alice Rigney, an elder in Fort Chipewyan. She’s harnessing the power of the internet to help keep Dene alive in the minds and mouths of her devoted students.

“I was born in Fort Chip, I grew up here. I was a residential person, I was in the mission for ten years. I lost my language there. My culture, my identity. It’s been a long journey for me to be able to say I’m doing okay now. I’ve accepted that what happened to me is not my fault, and I’ve moved on.

Teaching my language has always been on my bucket list. I need to teach; help keep our language alive.”

Organized through the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Alice has been teaching Dene classes four days a week for the past two years. Classes are offered for free, online via Zoom – the popular video chat program. Her students are mostly adults, and while some come and go, others have stuck around and come a long way in their learnings.

“I look forward to teaching classes every day, it’s always interesting and fun. It’s not the easiest language to learn, but I must be doing something right because the students have advanced so much! Some of the regulars have a really good handle on the language -- to the point they can even read in Dene, now.”

Outside the online classroom, Alice is anything but idle.

I’m 71, retired, though I don’t really know what retirement means because I can’t just sit around and do nothing.

"So I freelance to CBC Yellowknife and Inuvik in my language. I do community reports in Dene, and out of Inuvik I tell stories.

“In my free time I’ll usually do some sewing, making moccasins and things like that, but in summer I put it down and it’s all about gardening and just being outside. I go out on the lake, out to Jackfish Lake where I grew up, just enjoying every day.”

And at the end of every day, even the difficult ones, Alice finds something to cherish.

“Whatever you do, you should enjoy it and make the best of it. I do that with my gardening, or when I’m spending time with my grandchildren because they keep me so busy.

“And speaking of family, sure, I have my immediate family, but I also have a ‘family’ in the people I teach, and those I work with. Family is love, family is looking after those close to you. Having a family, blood related or not, is the greatest gift.”

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