Thursday, January 15, 2015

Haida G’waii – Returning to the Language

Last summer I visited Haida G’waii, home of the Haida people in northwestern British Columbia.  This remote chain of islands near Alaska draws few visitors except sports fishermen and people who love silence and stunning beauty.  But there’s something else happening when I look beyond steep mountains meeting ocean.  The Haida are returning to their language. 

Language advocacy, the renewing of Native languages and thereby tribal cultures nearly extinguished by colonization, is on the rise across North America.  Visiting the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (S.H.I.P.) for the first time, I’m an outsider struck by contrasts.  This fishing village is small and quiet; the S.H.I.P. longhouse is large and filled with the sound of spoken Haida.  Elders and a few others wear professional headphones, using mics to learn and share.  A sound mixing board sits at the far end of the room, run by a young Haida man. 

I caught Pat, pictured here, outside the longhouse taking a break before she returned to play spoken Haida bingo.

S.H.I.P. was founded in 1998 because:

Ga ḵ’aayas gina g̱ii guudang.ngaay hlkuuxiidas

 - The concern of the elders

 Ga X̱aayda Kil g̱aay idsda sing.gwa’ad gyin

 - Is that once the fluent Haida Speakers pass away

 X̱aayda Kil idsda gaagu g̱as ga

 - The Haida Language would be lost from us

 X̱aayda yahk’ii sg̱wanang giyuu id sdaahll

 - We wish to remain true Haidas always