Q&A with Xaayda Kil Learner Gidin Jaad Erica Jean Ryan

Gidin Jaad and Sphenia Jones at the Haida language immersion camp preparing to film SGaawaay K’uuna Edge of the Knife.

“I know I have to do this to honour the ancestors, Elders and our language. I do the best I can to use the language at every opportunity. I challenge myself to not be ashamed or afraid to make mistakes.”


How long have you been learning Xaayda kil?
I started learning Xaayda kil when I was pregnant with my daughter Xaay.ya eight years ago. I took a position as an Information Technology Assistant at the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP). It was there that I sat with the Elders recording, documenting, transcribing and digitalizing the work and words of our fluent speaking Elders.

What inspired you to start learning?
I remember Kihlgula Gaaya Severn Cullis-Suzuki and Ildagwaay Bea Harley coming into Jags Beanstalk when I worked there. They were existing completely and entirely in Xaayda kil while in the coffee shop. I noted their entire interaction and was so inspired by the two of them and their Master Apprenticeship process of learning.

Who did you learn from?
I learned from our Elders at SHIP. I also learned for the immense amount of resources that have been created over the years. I am currently finishing my Bachelor of Education at the University of Northern British Columbia in Tsimshian territory (Terrace). The roots of my university education were in a Haida Language and Culture Certificate, and then I did a diploma program with GwaaGanad Diane Brown teaching the language courses. With help from multiple instructors along the way, I have been supported right to where I am now. I’m just finishing all my teaching credentials and then will come back home to teach.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?
The biggest challenge I have faced is time. I have struggled to find the time and dedicate myself to learning. I know I have to do this to honour the ancestors, Elders and our language. I do the best I can to use the language at every opportunity. I challenge myself to not be ashamed or afraid to make mistakes. I learned some basic sentence structure patterns from linguist Jordan Lachler and now I am focusing on verbs so I can help grow my ability to communicate about the things I do daily.

What helps you to continue going?
After working at Sk’aadGa Naay Elementary School as a part-time partial Haida Immersion teacher alongside Herb Jones I have been determined to finish a degree in education so I can teach the children. The creator brought me to the language through the pregnancy of my daughter. Every day since I stepped foot into SHIP all those years ago, I have pushed myself to finish university so the language can have a place in the public school system. It really deserves that and it needs that. My children are huge motivators for me to walk the walk and be the change I want to see in this world.

Do you have advice for people who want to learn?
My advice to people who want to learn the Haida language is to learn to pray first. GwaaGanad asked our cohort of students: “How will the ancestors help you if they cannot understand you?” The rest is history, and now I do my part to carry on my responsibility.


This article is published in the recent Haida Laas featuring Haida language speakers, learners and advocates. View or download the full edition here.


 

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