Deg Xinag Oral Traditions:
Reconnecting Indigenous Language and
Education Through Traditional Narratives
Presented to the Faculty
of the University of Alaska Fairbanks
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
Dr. Beth Leonard's
“Deg Xinag,” literally ‘local language’ is the westernmost
of the Athabascan
languages. The language area is also referred to as “Deg Hit’an,” literally, ‘local
The Deg Hit’an are often referred to inappropriately in anthropological
literature as “Ingalik,” a Yup’ik word meaning ‘lice-infested’.
There are currently three
villages in western, interior Alaska where this language is spoken and
about 20 fluent
speakers of this language remaining. As I proceeded through my graduate
came to understand the significance of indigenous language revitalization
in relation to its
potential contributions to indigenous and cross-cultural education.
include establishing and enhancing self-identity and self-esteem for
as well as contributing in-depth knowledge about local environments
place-based and funds of knowledge educational models (Barnhardt and
15; Moll 1990).
This dissertation presents an interdisciplinary analysis
of a complex, cosmological
Deg Hit’an narrative entitled “Nil’oqay Ni’idaxin” or “The
Man and Wife” told in the
Deg Xinag language by the late Belle Deacon of Grayling Alaska (1987b).
told her own English version and titled this “The Old Man Who Came
Above the Second Layer of the World” (1987c). Underlying structures
used in the contexts of Deg Xinag oral traditions are currently lacking
in most published
materials for this language, making it difficult to learn and consequently,
develop culturally-appropriate language learning programs and curriculum.
encompasses the fields of Alaska Native/indigenous studies, anthropology,
folklore/oral traditions using philosophical and pedagogical frameworks
indigenous scholars including Gregory Cajete, Oscar Kawagley, and Greg