Rhonda Lee McIsaac —
With less than five percent of Indigenous languages alive in Canada, learning Xaayda kil with the intention of teaching it is an admirable goal. It is a journey being taken by twelve Haida students over the last four years. In that time, the twelve Haida women have seen and marked a difference in their attitudes to learning and the acquisition of language since their first class. The gathering at Kay Llnagaay of young and old, was held to acknowledge the women who recently graduated with a University of Northern British Columbia Diploma in First Nations Language.
“You saw us. You encouraged us,” said Gidin Jaad about their language instructor GwaaGanad Diane Brown. GwaaGanad has long been an advocate for Xaayda kil language acquisition and instruction and is recognized as the youngest fluent speaker of Xaayda kil, a fact she noted in her address to the class.
“Spread the word,” encouraged Gahlaay, Hereditary leader of Kaayahl ‘Laanaas. Gahlaay reminded the women of their privilege due to the damage caused by residential school and colonization. “Our grandparents and parents would not speak the language to us or with us around,” he lamented.
Breaking the silence could explain one of the reasons why Xaayda kil is being revitalized with these language graduates one voice at a time.
“Ahaay.yad t’alang ‘waadluXan guudang.ngaay ‘uwan ga,” stated Daall Jaad as she looked down from the podium seeing blankets with clan crests and cedar hats bobbing in the front of family and friends. For the last four years, each student has taken pride in learning Xaayda kil. Students Jenny Cross, Erica Ryan and Kristy Alsop acknowledged their joyous and tearful journey in their speeches. One after another they acknowledged their instructor and mentor GwaaGanad.
GwaaGanad responded with humility and about the growth she has seen in four years, and her happiness for the language students. In a nod to GwaaGanad’s generosity, Ts’uuwaay Kuuyada Jaad distributed crystals to classmates to honour their journey, their time in class, and on the land. “GwaaGanad we are forever grateful,” echoed Gidin Jaad.
“I’ve seen reconciliation in action and this Haida language and culture program is a model for Canada and the rest of the world. Through the Xaayda language we are going to make things right. Haawa to all the supports, teachers, Elders, and Skidegate Haida Immersion Program. One more semester to our Developmental Standard Term Certificate (DSTC) Program – we are on our way to our Bachelor of Education,” exclaimed Gidin Jaad.
Language revitalization has inspired many, including the Skidegate Band Council, stated Billy Yovanovich. The education partnership with the University of Northern British Columbia was created as a result of the Comprehensive Community Plan. The need for Haida language teachers was identified as part of the community consultations for CCP. The Haida language program was developed using curriculum created by Haida for the learners and funding from the Gwaii Trust Society, Council of the Haida Nation, BC Rural Dividends Fund and the Skidegate Band Council made it possible.
A great feature of the program was that students could stay home and study at the Haida Heritage Centre classrooms which meant students could keep working to support their families. The program also employed local instructors Robert Williams, Lindsay Galbraith, Fraser Earle, GwaaGanad, Stu Crawford, Kim Madore, Leighann Rodgers, Tricia Querengesser, Vanessa Wahl and academic learning advisors Jenn Dysart and Severn Cullis-Suzuki.
The celebration was organized by UNBC staff and support from across the region by Sharon Oskey (UNBC), Shammi Bowal (UNBC), Lori Nyce (WWNI), Catherine Kervel (WWNI). As Dr. Bruce Bidgood, UNBC Northwest Regional Chair, presented the graduates their diplomas he wished for the students to never be too old to learn and that they become great women of knowledge.
Dang ad guudang.ngaay k’iina ga Congratulations to Ts’uuwaay Kuuyada Jaad Kristy Alsop, Jad Xaay.ya Fallon Crosby, Kuunaa Jaad Jennifer Cross, K’uuna Jaad Patti Gladstone, Daall Jaad Melody Gravelle, Xaahlgiinanguu Joan Moody, Guud Xang.ngii Melinda Pick, St’aay Taaw.waay Carla Russ, Gidin Jaad Erica Ryan, Gaajiiaawa Linda Tollas, Jaad Tl’aaw Paula Varnell, and Siina Cindy Williams.