It is an exciting time for the Haida language. Known as Xaad kil in the northern dialect and Xaayda kil in the southern dialect, our language is entering a time of growth and rebirth. Today as Haida, we are calling ourselves by our Haida names; we recognize and use many of our Haida place names; we use the Haida language within multiple media; and we greet each other and address large crowds in the Haida language and according to our protocol. Youth even update their status on social media and send text messages to each other in Xaad kil / Xaayda kil!
We have the opportunity and a choice now to focus, work hard, learn with an Elder or knowledgeable person in the language. Learners practice every chance we get, and listen to recordings and lessons given by those who came before us, and in the case of the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP), those with us still. We can now make a collective effort to reclaim our language by using it in everyday situations, such as meetings and feasts, at the grocery store, around the kitchen table, on the basketball court, and in our classrooms.
On Haida Gwaii, we have multiple spaces for Haida language efforts that are highlighted in this Special Edition. From our precious newborn learners to our precious Elder speakers, there are many incredible efforts bringing our Xaad kil / Xaayda kil back into our lives. Every single effort is normalizing our language at home, in school, and within community functions. From SHIP and the multitude of learning programs in HlGaagilda Skidegate, to the Islands-wide Haida Gwaii Mentor Apprentice Program, to the Xaad kil office in Gaw Tlagee Old Massett and the diverse and exciting Haida language initiatives within our school system on Haida Gwaii.
A tremendous framework is being built for us as a community of learners to grow capacity and improve our Xaad kil / Xaayda kil comprehension and speech. Can you imagine a Haida community that once again surrounds our consciousness with our beautiful language from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed? What will it take to get to that reality again? How do we overcome our challenges to find enjoyable, successful ways to learn, teach, and use our language every single day?
Our challenges indeed have been many. From a destructive colonial mentality that visited our lands promoting English-only thinking and speaking and leading to the violent experience of residential schools and day schools to the current situation of precariously few Haida who were “born into” the language. We are faced with a task that calls for healing, co-operation, ingenuity, love and care. Generations of us have endured the notion that, “English will get us ahead.” However, the more we find out about the incredible benefits of learning, speaking, and maintaining our language, we find out that the opposite is true. Knowing and speaking our Indigenous language affords us a better quality of life in our mental and spiritual health, within our families and home lives, in our education and career goals, and even results in a longer life expectancy.
From a destructive colonial mentality that visited our lands promoting English-only thinking and speaking and leading to the violent experience of residential schools and day schools to the current situation of precariously few Haida who were “born into” the language. We are faced with a task that calls for healing, co-operation, ingenuity, love and care.
Learning our language will support healing from the harmful effects of our colonized history. We will become stronger and feel better each new word we say, each connection we make between learning our language and living in our world as Haida. The struggle of learning something that is burdened with complex trauma and overcoming such challenges are worth it. We can do this together and we can help each other. T’alang ahl ga tlaaydaasaang We help each other. ‘Wagyaan Xaad Kihl ga xiinangaasaang And then the Haida language will live on.
Dalang ahl kil ‘laagang I respectfully thank you for listening.