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.