“X̲aayda kil jii.nga x̲aaynang.nga G̲as ga.” Nang Kiingaay Yuu7ans James Young
Rhonda Lee McIsaac
The secret is out! 2019’s list of Haida graduand’s grew larger when nine k̲’aay.yas Haida elders were formally invited to receive their honorary doctorate degrees from Vancouver Island University. For a good minute the room was silent with surprise as the news sunk in, then gave way to enthusiastic applause. Organizers kept the surprise secret from the nine fluent Haida language speakers until the announcement at HlG̲aagilda X̲aayda Kil Naay Skidegate Haida Immersion Program on March 15.
Dr. Ralph Nilson, President and Vice-Chancellor at VIU, addressed the crowd at HlG̲aagilda X̲aayda Kil Naay via video chat. “We recognize the incredible work and effort and all of the work that has been done to preserve the heritage of your community and the strength it has provided the whole community.” The impacts of X̲aad/X̲aayda kil are seen throughout Haida Gwaii, with more being seen and heard since the first time fluent speakers gathered to help save the language.
Dr. Gaaying.uuhlas Roy Jones Sr., Dr. Yang K‘aalas Grace Jones, Dr. SG̲aana Jaads K’yaa Ga X̲iigangs Golie Hans, Dr. Ildagwaay Bea Harley, Dr. Taalgyaa’adad Betty Richardson, Dr. Sing.giduu Laura Jormanainan, Dr. Jiixa Gladys Vandal, Dr. Niis Waan Harvey Williams and Dr. GwaaG̲anad Diane Brown are receiving the highest honour that VIU can bestow. The honorary doctorates are meant to inspire others and reward those who showed leadership in and have made outstanding contributions to X̲aad/X̲aayda kil and Haida Gwaii.
SHIP Program Manager Luu G̱aahlandaay Kevin Borserio is receiving an Alumni Honour Award for outstanding work in education with HlG̲aagilda X̲aayda Kil Naay for the last 21 years. “Every word he heard, he wrote down,” said Dr. GwaaG̲anad of Luu G̱aahlandaay’s dedication to language preservation. Their combined efforts resulted in publishing the X̲aayda kil glossary, which today is in every HlG̲aagilda home.
Luu G̲aahlandaay introduced all speakers that followed who expressed heartfelt thanks to all who surround SHIP including k‘aay.yas past and present. Luu G̲aahlandaay and Ganaay Billy Yovanovich Sr, asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence for k‘aay.yas who made SHIP possible and have since passed on.
“I really appreciate the language,” said Dr. Gaaying.uuhlas upon hearing the news. “I appreciate those who kept the program going”. As the oldest male in HlG̲aagilda, Dr. Gaaying.uuhlas has long held his seat at the SHIP table beside his wife Dr. Yang K‘aalas.
Dr. Jiixa was emotionally moved by her 21-year journey with SHIP that began with the encouragement of her uncle Nang Kiingaay Yuu7ans James Young who “never let me stay home” and encouraged her to learn X̲aayda prayers. “It’s so good and healing to come here,” Dr. Jiixa said looking around the room, filled with over 90 people gathered to celebrate the X̲aayda kil doctors.
Congratulatory speeches followed from: Wiiganad Sid Crosby; Gaahlaay Lonnie Young; Dr. Gaayinguuhlas; Louise Mandell; Yaahldaajii Gary Russ on behalf of Naa Saagas; Roy Jones Jr; Xuux̲ Percy Crosby on behalf of CHN; Dr. GwaaG̲anad; Dr. Jiixa; Dr. Taalgyaa’adad; Dr. Yang K‘aalas; Sgaamsgid Harold ‘Doot’ Williams; Jaadguusandlans Natalie Fournier on behalf of Nang K̲aa Klaagangs Ernie Gladstone and Gwaii Haanas; Taanud Jaad Joanne Yovanovich on behalf of SD50; Jisgang Nika Collison; Dluujuu Mayor Kris Olsen on behalf of Queen Charlotte Village Council, and Yaahldaajii Gary Russ.
Convocation on June 3 in Snuneymuxw Nanaimo at VIU campus will be a time for X̲aayda kil, X̲aayda songs and X̲aayda regalia. This will be one of many events to observe the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages.