Helen MacLean recognized by UAF for preservation of language, culture

People gathered at the Kahtnuht'ana Duhdeldiht Campus to celebrate Helen MacLean, who earned an Honorary Doctorate of Ed. for her work in language preservation.
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 9:07 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Helen MacLean was born, by best estimate, in 1945. Her family lived a traditional subsistence lifestyle, moving with the seasons and with the food. So, at spring camp, in a tent, MacLean was born.

Her family was from Lime Village on the Stony River. It was an Athabascan village without a school. And the kids of Lime Village would get shipped off to boarding school. But not MacLean. When people came to gather up the kids for school, she wasn’t there. Her grandparents had hidden her away.

Her grandparents raised her in the traditional way — language, culture and outdoor skills. MacLean became a time capsule of cultural knowledge.

Today, there are less than 10 fluent speakers of Dena’ina, Athabascan. And MacLean is key to its survival, teaching language classes, recording pronunciations and sharing the knowledge.

On May 6, MacLean was recognized by the University of Alaska Fairbanks with an honorary degree for her contributions to the preservation of language and culture.