Sharing, Learning and Laughing in Xaad kil

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Mentors and dedicated learners gather for some fresh air and a visit at the T’aalan Stl’ang immersion camp (2019). L-R: Gulkiihlgad, Guulang Xuhlwaay, Xya’ahl Guu’la’as, Ilskyalas, K’i Uljuus Lisa Lang, Skilaaw, Kung Jaadee Crystal Robinson, Andrea Peele, Hilang Jaad Xylaa, Joylin Young, Stacia Sanderson. Photo: Candace Weir-White

Graham Richard

August 13-17, the Rediscovery Camp at T’aalan Stl’ang Lepas Bay hosted 39 participants including Elders, students, teachers, learners, babies, mentors, and apprentices of the Haida language. Rediscovery Camps started at T’aalan Stl’ang on Haida Gwaii in 1978. Since then, they have provided opportunities for Haida to grow stronger connections with Haida Gwaii, with the Haida language and with one another. This year’s camp was immersed in the Haida language and involved many from the Xaad kil community.

“This year participants took turns leading different activities and made sure to speak the language during dinners, chores, and around the fire. I am so proud of the amount of Xaad kil everyone used out at T’aalan Stl’ang,” said Haida language champion Jaskwaan Bedard. “It was a wonderful feeling to have so many people come together with diverse language skills and share, learn, and laugh with each other. There was a great feeling of accomplishment and joy. We visited old village sites and spoke in our language. We harvested roots in our language. Our ancestors heard us out there,” she recounted.

Young SGalans clan member and Xaad kil learner, Híilangaay Young, practicing his paddling form. Photo: Kihlguulans Christian White

“For me the first thing that I was telling people when I returned home was that it was just so magical to be there at the T’aalan Stl’ang immersion camp,” said cultural instructor and language advocate, Skíl Jáadei Linda Schrack. “We were removed from technology, so that really helped me to connect with the land and the ocean and with everybody that was out there. It was just amazing,” Skíl Jáadei enthusiastically recaps. “It really helped me to see how many more people are becoming interested in learning the language and everybody had different resources to share. I came back home with some new ideas to improve my own learning and with resources that I can use when I teach the language. We did some exercises that were really awesome because everybody had the opportunity to speak even though we were a large group. It just doesn’t seem like that happens all the time. It was a safe place to practice.”

Xaad Kil Nee Haida Language House partnered with rediscovery program coordinator, Sandlanee Gid Raven Ann Potschka, to run the immersion program with funding from the Gwaii Trust Society. Experience and knowledge from Simon Fraser University’s First Nations Languages programming influenced the camp significantly.

Haida have been working with SFU since the late 1990s to run language courses. Language champions Jaskwaan and Gulkiihlgad Marianne Ignace instructed this past year’s program in fall 2018 and spring 2019. Participants who complete nine courses earn a Certificate in First Nations Languages and the program has seen a number of Haida graduates in Xaad kil. It was during this school year that participants decided to host the 2019 immersion camp at T’aalan Stl’ang.

Revered language learner, advocate, and master weaver, Ilskyalas is always smiling up and up for an adventure. Photo: Candace Weir-White

At first, organizers planned a smaller group setting, however, a number of participants expressed interest in attending, including Haida SFU program students and Alaskan K’íis Xaad kil community members at Xánts’ii Náay Immersion Preschool on Taan (Prince of Whales Island), and so the program grew.

Jaskwaan sought a donation from Helijet and the company ensured this year’s camp invited Haida nang k‘aygee Elders, including Ilskyalas Dolores Churchill, g̱uulang xuhlwaay Leona Clow, and some from Higdáa Gándlaay Hydaburg, bringing the final total to 35 participants.

Organizers are planning many more future spaces for immersion and envision an expanded program that can include even more participants.

Two young learners weaving art into the language immersion camp. Photo: Kihlguulans Christian White

This article is published in the 2019 Special Haida Language Edition of Haida Laas featuring Haida language speakers, learners and advocates. View or download the full edition here.



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