Nine dedicated Elders from Haida Gwaii are bringing the endangered Haida language to future generations. Once there were over 15,000 fluent speakers of Haida, but today, because of assimilation tactics like residential schools, almost all Haida people speak English at home. These nine Elders—with an average age of more than 80—represent about half of the fluent Haida speakers who remain.
With support from Gifts with Vision, the work of these Elders in a research-based revitalization project keeps the Haida language alive and growing.
The Elders teach students the words, phrases, songs, and stories of their ancestors. Their devoted community of learners has grown every year, and now includes both children and adults. Lessons are given through the Longhouse of Skidegate village, but the program reaches much further. At First Nations conferences, Elders and others share what they have learned about teaching the Haida language with other Indigenous language leaders. Language learners who live far from the Haida Nation can choose to receive the program through more than 120 online lessons.
Recently, the young students gathered to honour the Elders. They brought sweets and gifts of traditional art. “I appreciate the work the Elders are doing with our language and culture,” said one young student. “They work very hard every day so that my generation can remember our culture.” The program also gives young people from the Haida Nation the opportunity to connect with the Elders to nurture their cultural pride and understanding.