Lheidli T'enneh elder earns masters degree

A Lheidli T'enneh elder with an deep knowledge of her aboriginal language has earned a masters degree in education.

For Janet (Jeannette) Kozak, 75, the news that her two years of effort has paid off delivered a sense of both accomplishment and relief.

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"I feel pretty proud of my self," Kozak said Monday.

"That was a lot of work."

The achievement comes on top of earning a teachers certificate in 2012 which gives her the credential to teach the Lheidli dialect of the Dakelh (Carrier) language in public schools.

Kozak earned the masters through Simon Fraser University, who sent an instructor up to Prince George for a weekend each month to work with Kozak and a group of others also studying towards the same degree.

"In between, we had a whole lot of work to do," Kozak said.

Along with the course work, where she learned about the array of teaching methods, Kozak put together a portfolio about her language and culture for her thesis.

Kozak spoke Lheidli until she was six years old when she was sent away to the Lejac residential school near Fraser Lake where pupils were strictly forbidden from speaking their native languages.

"That's all we spoke at home - my grandmother couldn't speak English," Kozak said.

"When we came home from Lejac, she said for us to speak in our language. And I said 'we can't because the government will squish our heads if we spoke,' and we believed that, when you're a little kid you believe that."

Her interest was revived about 20 years ago when a program was launched to revive the language.

She and some others were given an opportunity to earn accreditation to teach the language but, because funding came and went, it took 15 years before Kozak finally had a certificate.

Kozak also credits her mother, Mary Gouchie, 94, as a major source of knowledge.

She is one of just three others, besides Kozak, who can speak the dialect.

"We have a dying language and somebody has to save it," Kozak said.

Armed with "boxes and boxes" of laminated picture cards with the Lheidli word for each object underneath, Kozak said she continues to teach at the Lheidli T'enneh learning centre on the Shelley reserve.

"I just love it when finally the children catch on and they're speaking to one another in the class, even though they just say 'hello,' 'how are you,'" Kozak said.

"They pick that up within two weeks and within 12 weeks they're conversing with one another in different sentences that I'm putting on the board."

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