Laughter echoes through the Stlaay Daw Naay Welcoming House at the Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay. Amid the shouts and giggles are the sounds of a recovering language, broken by wide smiles. This is what fifteen Hlgaagilda Xaayda Kil Southern Haida Dialect students taking a course called ‘FNST 231’ sound like. From September 23 to October 24, teacher and fluent speaker Gwaaganad Diane Brown led the students through nine sessions.
“The school district says we need a speaker with a teaching degree,” language learner Gidin Jaad Erica Ryan-Gagne explained at the Haida Nation’s annual House of Assembly. “So I’m doing it along with fourteen other women! If I have to go back to school at thirty and spend five-and-a-half years towards a teaching degree, then that’s what I have to do for my children.”
The Skidegate Band Council’s Comprehensive Community Plan and the Haida Language Revitalization Plan inspired this University of Northern BC credited program. The students love to have fun as they learn and in class they presented games they had created to help them practice their speaking skills.
In the game of Halxa! Harvest, players raced each other to name a food and its harvest-time in Haida, and then used small metal tweezers to retrieve tokens from below an electrified panel! After competitors scrambled to remember the Haida words first, a tense silence would fall as they carefully try to wield the tiny tweezers to fetch the tokens. If the tweezers touched the panel, an alarm sounded and all their work had been for nothing, sending the room into laughter.
“It’s really just a home-made version of Operation,” explained creator Jaad Tlaaw Paula Varnel. “It’s super-easy to make, I had no idea! I love this little doodad so much. I might like to make a bigger one.”
Xayna Jaad Kristy Alsop presented the game of X_aayda Kil Ginhlgahl Haida Language Mix-Up, a modified version of Scrabble. It featured nineteen more tiles than the regular game and the extra tiles are unique Xaayda Kil sounds like k’, k, g, x, hl, and tll. And, because Xaayda Kil is more difficult to spell for beginners, each player gets to use nine tiles instead of seven.
Sing.giduu Laura Jormanian presented a version of Go Fish! called Xaawin! which has special cards. When someone played the Aaway.ya card, they could make another competitor xyaahl dance. The player holding the K’uugaad liar card could lie to players about their cards before discarding it. When someone played the Haksda! lets go card, they could force another player to take a turn.
Students often found themselves so taken up with the competition that games were allowed to go on for extra rounds.
“It’s been a very inspiring afternoon!” concluded Gwaaganad after a lot of practice, learning, and laughter. “I wanted to remind you how great you all are. I want to remind you that when you love something, it heals you. It is necessary for you all to be proud. You all work very hard. It’s a good feeling. Everything about it for me is wonderful. I never even thought I’d teach again, and here I am!”
Students who completed the course included Jaad Tlaaw, X_ayna Jaad, Sing.giduu, Gidin Jaad, Gaagwiis Jason Alsop, Jaad Xaay.ya Fallon Crosby, Kuunaa Jaad Jenny Cross, K’una Jaad Patti Gayle Gladstone, Jaad Haana Alix Goetzinger, Daall Jaad Melody Gravelle, Haahlginganguu Joan Moody, Guud Xang.ngi Melinda Pick, St’aay Taw.waay Carla Russ, Gaajiiaawa Linda Tollas, Siina Cindy Williams, and Jennifer Dysart. Kihlguula Gaay.ya Severn Suzuki was teaching assistant.