Haida Gwaii Mentor Apprentice Program

Students of GwaaGanad sharing the ‘WaasGo Sea Wolf story of Spirit Lake PC: CHN/Rhonda Lee McIsaac

Rhonda Lee McIsaac

The Haida Gwaii Mentor Apprentice Program hosted its third annual winter dinner in December 2019 at the HlGaagilda Skidegate Community Hall to celebrate, honour, and lift up Haida language teachers and learners in the community. Kuunajaad Jenny Cross and Kihlgula Gaaya Severn Cullis-Suzuki were the emcees and moved the agenda along.

“We want to bring out the language itself and celebrate it. We also want to celebrate those teaching and learning the language,” Kihlgula Gaaya said to the 70 community members gathered. Kathy Williams catered a scrumptious dinner provided by HGMAP and the Skidegate Saints Junior Girls basketball team served the Elders and guests.

Language is being taught at all levels within the community: from 3-year-old preschool and the Skidegate Daycare, where small children are learning nursery rhymes translated by the late beloved K’inwas Jackie Casey, Gaadaa7ungaay Herb Jones and Kuunajaad, to the language Nest (infant to preschool). Sk’aadGa Naay Elementary School and GidGalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary School for our youth brings language into classrooms, and HGMAP offers apprenticeships to adults learning with Master teachers. Skidegate Haida Immersion Program has been a pillar for many years offering the foundation of Xaayda kil Haida language in HlGaagilda where fluent speakers gather to record the language.

Dr. SGaanajaadsk’yaagaxiigangs Kathleen “Golie” Hans was recognized for her tenure and dedication; she has taught Xaayda kil for 38 years. She was also present in Snuneymuxw Nanaimo for the Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree conferred upon nine fluent HlGaagilda Xaayda kil speakers this summer. Many of the doctors gathered at the front of the room to sing translated Christmas songs after dinner.

The language teachers and learners shared their experiences through songs, activities, plays and skits, and by sharing Haida oral histories. Making space for HlGaagilda Xaayda kil at events and in the community, HlGaagilda Xaayda kil speakers demonstrate bravery, courage and strength. “Prayers, like Dr. Jiixa Gladys Vandal does, or by sharing and speaking Xaayda kil in front of their peers and community is making a difference in language acquisition and retention,” stated Kihlgula Gaaya.

Many of the HGMAP participants shared words of gratitude and encouragement. “I want to acknowledge the effort made by k’aay.yas Elders to save our language for over twenty years is showing. It’s being learnt by older and younger folks, like me, who want to learn the language,” Hereditary Chief Nang Jingwas Russ Jones said gratefully.

T’aaGuu SGaana and Xaayda kil Kaaganda rests after being danced PC: CHN/Rhonda Lee McIsaac

T’aaGuu SGaana Supernatural Copper and Xaayda kil Kaaganda Saving the Haida Language was unveiled that evening. Each year the t’aaGuu is engraved with the names of new donors who gift $500 or more in cash or in-kind donations to the program. It was lifted up for the guests to witness the names of donors. The Haida Gwaii Mentor Apprentice Program is now in its fifth year of programming and the coordinators, community, learners and mentors’ commitment prove that it can really only grow from here!

Xaayda kil jii.nga xaaynang.nga Gas ga Haida language long live
Xaad kil xiinangaa sGwaanangsaang  Haida language will live on

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