Xaayda kil dii kaahlii Ga naa.uu da Haida Language Lives Inside Me

Daall Jaad and Xaayda kil mentor Jiixa at her FPCC graduation in 2016. Photo: Yahlnaaw Aaron Grant

Daall Jaad Melody Gravelle

Daall Jaad han.nuu dii kiiG​​a ga. K’ils ​X​aaydaG​​aay ad uu dii k​iiguuwaga. Gidansda id G​an k’uula ga. Essie Greene han.nuu dii naanGa​ kii​G​a ga. Henry Greene han.nuu dii chinG​a kii​Ga​ ga. Helen Robson han.nuu dii aw​Ga​ kii​G​a ga. Lorne Robson han.nuu dii ​XaadGa​ kii​G​a. Yahlnaaw han.nuu dii tlaal​Ga​ kii​G​a ga. Gid​Ga​lang sding t’alang daa​G​a ga. ​X​amjuu han.nuu id gidG​​a jaada kii​G​a ga. Daagwiiyah han.nuu id gidG​​a iihll.ngas kii​G​a ga. HlG​aagilda guu.uu tl’l naa.uu dii. Taada tleyhll ​X​aayda kil hll sk’aad​G​a t’aajing, iilaaw gam dii ​kaay.insdll ​Gang ga. Nanaay, dang gwa guudang? Gam dii K​aay.insdll ​Gang ga.

My name is Money Woman. My clan is Peninsula Point People. Our chief is Gidansda. My grandmother’s name is Essie Greene. My grandfather’s name is Henry Greene. My mother’s name is Helen Robson. My father’s name is Lorne Robson. My husband’s name is Yahlnaaw. We have two children. Our daughter’s name is Light Breeze. Our son’s name is Strong. We live in Skidegate. I have been learning the Haida language for five years and I am not giving up. Nanaay, do you hear me? I am not giving up.

I have been learning ​X​aayda kil since September 2014 when I enrolled in the UNBC Haida Culture and Language Certificate Program. I had been wanting to learn X​aayda kil for a long time, so I was really excited when I opened my acceptance letter. This UNBC program has changed my life forever. Our first day was filled with nervousness and uncertainty; little did we know how much it would fill up our hearts and provide us with so much love, respect, and healing. Our teachers, GwaaG​anad Diane Brown and Kihlgula G​aaya Severn Cullis-Suzuki, really put a lot of thought into the program. In the classes, we were taught how to introduce ourselves, pray, sing, dance, play, gather medicine, and give offerings through ceremony, and we did it all in X​a​ayda kil. These lessons taught us how to reconnect with each other, ourselves, our Elders, our language, our land, and our culture. For me, this was so empowering. It was during this time that I realized that for me, language is life.

These lessons taught us how to reconnect with each other, ourselves, our Elders, our language, our land, and our culture. For me, this was so empowering. It was during this time that I realized that for me, language is life.

I went through the program alongside several other women. The trust I built with these supportive and strong Haida women allowed me to venture outside my comfort zone many times. During our second year our good friend Kihlgula ​G​aaya convinced me to apply to a wonderful program called the First Peoples Cultural Council (FPCC) Mentor Apprentice Program (MAP). I eagerly applied with Jiixa Gladys Vandal as my mentor in May 2016. I was beyond excited when we got accepted and I had a new opportunity to learn more ​X​aayda kil.

The FPCC MAP is an immersion-based program, you and your mentor spend time doing everyday activities in the language. You go about your normal day completely immersed in Xaayda kil. It is perfect for driven and eager individuals who want to learn their language. Everyone is given a contract of 300 hours of immersion work to complete in 10 months.

My first year I exceeded that amount and completed over 500 hours of immersion work and I was invited back for another year. It was during this first year that I became part of the SHIP family as well.

My second year I worked with Jiixa, Yang ​K’aalas Grace Jones, and Gaayinguuhlas Roy Jones Sr. The growth in my learning during that second year was really noticeable in my presentation with FPCC. You could see the growth in my presentation content and how much more I learned with three mentors. In the first-year presentation, I did my introduction, I sang “head and shoulders” and performed some actions to go along with verbs. In the second year, I gave a lengthy presentation on my trip to Hawaii with SHIP and I was using full descriptive sentences. I was able to pull knowledge from all three mentors and really expand my world through ​X​aayda eyes. The world really is different in your own language. It is more beautiful when you see it through your language.

I was able to share my growth with my SHIP family and have been grateful for their ongoing support. After every 100 hours of practicing together, apprentices present to three fluent Elders at SHIP. I always look forward to sharing with them as they evaluate my progress; it is a highlight of my learning. It lets me know how far I have come and how far I still have to go. I completed over 800 hours by my second year and was invited back again.

In 2017, during my second year of master-apprentice training, I was offered a contract to coach language teams across the province. I am now in my second year of coaching and currently work with 25 teams.

This work is so inspirational. Every month I get to check in with them and hear what they are working on and provide them with the support they need. I love this job. I enjoy hearing how other nations are taking back their languages as well. I can see the momentum of language revitalization in many nations and this fills my heart with joy and hope that one day our languages will no longer be foreign to our own people.

During my third year with FPCC-MAP I noticed the growth in my language. I noticed how I was connecting to the dialect carried by Niis Waan Harvey Williams. It was familiar to my ears and I was understanding him at a rapid pace. He used to be a fast talker for me and now my ears can hear him, I can’t express it any other way. He has woken up my ears and gave me a voice. I completed my third year and I graduated this May. In three years, I completed over 1,100 hours of immersion work. I am happy to say Niis Waan and I found more opportunities to continue our work together and I eagerly look forward to my four hours a day with my mentor.

Daall Jaad and Xaayda kil mentor Niis Waan. Photo: Sandy Alsop

I cannot express enough how much I appreciate all of these mentors for giving their time and sharing their knowledge with me. Throughout three years of learning with my mentors, I feel a deep sense of respect, gratitude, and love. They have put their faith in me and I will not let any of them down. I have taken on a lifelong responsibility to keep learning and sharing what I know.

I have many responsibilities as a new speaker and I will continue to immerse myself in our language. I have graduated from a four-year UNBC program, I have a bachelor’s degree in Haida Language and a Developmental Standard Teacher’s Certificate. Last spring I graduated from the three-year FPCC-MAP, and I am in my second year of being a language coach. I was hired on as the language nest teacher in HlGaagilda Skidegate and I am now an apprentice in the Haida Gwaii Mentor-Apprentice Program where I still work with Niis Waan. I would say I am living my dream.

X​aayda kil taught me to see with new eyes. The world is much brighter and exciting in our own language. The more I learn, the more my world expands. My passion for the language has brought me many opportunities and responsibilities. It is my responsibility as a new speaker to pass on everything I know. I am not fluent but I am working hard to get there.

X​aayda kil taught me to see with new eyes. The world is much brighter and exciting in our own language. The more I learn, the more my world expands. My passion for the language has brought me many opportunities and responsibilities. It is my responsibility as a new speaker to pass on everything I know. I am not fluent, but I am working hard to get there.

Accomplished Xaayda kil graduates pose for a photo at the Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay. Photo: Jason Shafto

Dii ​K​’aay.yas ​Ga​aw hll kil ‘laa ga. Dalang ‘waadlu​xan ​Ga​ dii k’uuga ad yahguudang K​​waan ga. ​X​aayda kil gina sk​’aad​Ga​ ll​Ga​ay​G​alang k​w​aan hll daaG​​a gan. La gaang.nga dii ging s​k’​aad​G​a kwaan gan. Ga K’aay.yas dii ​Ga​n ging s​k’aadG​​a gan. Gyen dii gud ‘laa ga.

My Elders, I thank you. I love and respect you all very much. I have had many teachers teaching me. They teach me a lot. My Elders made me learn. I like it.

Dii mentors, SHIP hltaaxuulang, GwaaG​anad, Kihl​gu​la ​G​aaya, UNBC jaa.adaay, First Peoples Cultural Council ad dii hltaaxuulang ​G​aaw hll kil ‘laa ga. Dalang G​​a dii k’uuga ad yahguudang ​k​waan ga.

My mentors, SHIP family, Diane Brown, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, UNBC ladies, FPCC, and my family, I thank you all. I love and respect you all very much.

Ahaay.yad dii k’uuga st’aa​x​uu​Ga​ .Dii ad aan​x​ang.ngahl ad guudang.ngaay ‘yuwan ga. Xaayda kil dii ​k​aahlii ​G​a naa.uu da. ​X​aayda kil jii.nga X​aaynang.nga ​G​as ga!

Today my heart is full. I am grateful and proud. Haida language lives inside me. Long live the Haida language!


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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