Rhonda Lee McIsaac —
“Today, on National Aboriginal Day, is a celebration for the entire Haida Nation!” exclaimed University of Northern British Columbia alumni, Ms. Lori Noyce to a group of Haida women who had just received their certificate in Haida Language and Culture from UNBC at the Haida Heritage Centre on June 21, 2016.
“Your success is no small feat,” said said Ms. Deanna Nyce, President & CEO, Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a in her address to the graduating class on behalf of UNBC’s First Nations Studies department. You’ve accomplished a great achievement.” The graduates’ achievement comes on the backs of those who suffered through colonization, and the eras of the missionary’s and Indian Residential Schools she said. Nyce also credited the “amazing” work of the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP) in ensuring that these students have a space where they can access knowledge about the language.
Acknowledging their learning and those who taught them, Kuunajaad Jenny Cross and Gidin Jaad Erica Ryan-Gagne addressed their classmates and the audience in Haida with an English translation following.
“Xaayda kihlgii gam id sda gaaguu, sing ga hllswaga. Gen id Xaayadaga yahkii jiingn gas ga” I pray that the Haida language will never be lost from us, so we can always remain true Haidas always,” impassioned Kuunajaad, which was followed by great applause from those gathered to witness the graduation ceremony.
Gidin Jaad also spoke in Haida, with concentration and care. “Ahaay.yad Xaayda Kil t’alang Kaaganda dii ga.” Today, we are saving the Haida language she stated and added, “Xaayda yahk’ii Kihlgulas gyinuu Hlk’iiyan K’aaws Xaanuu tl’l kil gii gyuu sda gang ga” When the Haida talk, even the trees listen.
For the past two years the class has met at the Haida Heritage Centre classrooms under the instruction of language instructors: Jordan Lachler, Marianne Boelscher Ignace, GwaaGanad Diane Brown and Kihlgula Gaaya Severn Cullis-Suzuki. There were 12 courses in the certificate program that they all completed.
Each student has balanced full and part time jobs, children at home, community events and meetings, and their own personal battles with educational institutions and past learning experiences.
“No one is crying in class anymore,” Kihlgula Gaaya said, as part of the struggle was very emotional for students who faced their scars and persevered. Kihlgula Gaaya thanked the class for the honour of being a part of their educational journey in the Haida language.
“You are learning the Haida language and that’s why the Haida language will survive,” instructor GwaaGanad Diane Brown told the class in a letter read by assistant Kihlgula Gaaya.
The graduates’ certificate can be applied towards a teaching degree at UNBC.
Congratulations to the first Certificate in Haida Language and Culture graduates. The class includes: Kristy Alsop, Fallon Crosby, Jennifer Cross, Patti Gladstone, Melody Gravelle, Laura Jormanainen, Joan Elizabeth Moody, Melinda Pick, Carla Russ, Erica Ryan-Gagne, Linda Tollas, Paula Varnell and Sandra Williams!