People & Culture

Languages of the land: Tsé Itzoh/Louise Profeit-LeBlanc on soh thun, dealing with life

In the third part of the “Languages of the Land” digital series, the storyteller, artist and choreographer speaks to Canadian Geographic on life’s teachings and working together

  • Apr 14, 2024
  • 801 words
  • 4 minutes
a woman with long grey hair wearing a blank sweater with beaded flowers laughs at the camera
Tsé Itzoh/Louise Profeit-LeBlanc speaks with CanGeo associate editor Abi Hayward at the Canadian launch of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. (Photo: still from video by Daniel Arian/Canadian Geographic)
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My Indigenous name is Tsé Itzoh which means beaver woman and my half-French-half-English name is Louise Profeit-LeBlanc. And I’m originally from the Yukon Territory, north eastern part of the territory, from a small village called Mayo, and I’m from the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation.

On a word in Northern Tutchone

When we greet people, we say say indeah doh hoh tee. Indeah doh hoh tee means: how’s the world treating you today? How’s the world treating you, always? And the response if you are cool with the world and all of its little foibles, you will say soh thun, meaning “I’m dealing with life.” You know, everything that’s going on in the world. Maybe years ago, they used to have poor hunting. Maybe the ice was rotting and they couldn’t get across the river to get to the other side. And nowadays, of course, the difficulties in the world with war and all kinds of poverty and the cost of gas. So I would say to you, in this modern day, I say indeah doh hoh tee. And you would say soh thun, which means “I’m dealing with life.”

On why these words are so meaningful

They say everything. They say to me, as an Indigenous woman, that we’re all given life. Life teaches us everything we need to know. So if you take it easy, if you’re calm, if you’re balanced in your life, if you pay attention to giving thanks to the creator, to the land that is provided for you, to your family, your friends, your environment — life is good. Your life is good. So this is why it’s important. And I always say this to young people particularly. I say Indeah doh hoh tee. And they laugh. I say: that’s good. That’s a place to start, is from a place of happy. From a place of calm and from that place of: I have to continue my life, no matter what happens. That’s why I like to say that. We are, from the morning we wake up and, well, from the time we’re born, we’re dealing with our lives.

“I can share just one word, and that stays with the people. It’s because that word was used here for thousands of years. So it holds power.”

On the International Decade of Indigenous languages

What it means to me is that our country is supporting this whole principle, our world is also supporting this principle. This need is that we’re having progress in the world. There’s progress because the people of this land — Turtle Island, is what the people from here refer to it as — they provided clothing, they provided food, they provided a home, they provided generosity of all different stripes. And now it is time for them to realize that the language that was spoken is precious because it speaks to the land, it speaks of the land, and it’s for protecting not only the land, but the people who live on it. And not just Indigenous people, but all peoples. So from the language comes an emotional maturity that can only be contained in the Indigenous language. In the colonizers language, there’s just so much that’s left out in terms of emotion, in terms of how you should be. The way of being is to realize that you are only one of many, and that you should always work together. 

On where she hopes we’ll be by the Decade’s end

Further ahead. Ten years of development, ten years of investigating, ten years of seeking truth, ten years of trying all different kinds of things and finding a way. And there’s so many different ways of finding. In the arts — that’s the field that I’m in, I’m a storyteller — there’s so many different ways in which I can transfer that knowledge through just one word, like which I shared with you. I can share just one word, and that stays with the people. It’s because that word was used here for thousands of years. So it holds power.

On language from the heart

It’s a heart language. It’s from heart. And it’s respectful, it’s loving. It’s kind. It’s all those things which I’m afraid that in our society today, we’re not conscientious of that. Like, how do I be kind to you? You know, how do I respect you? And with my words, with my being, where a stranger becomes a friend. That’s really important. It’s an important thing about language.

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