More than anyone else, Blanche Bell speaks Haida with her children, who are four and six.
They learn a lot from Chief Matthews Elementary, she says, and after years of learning Xaad Kil herself, Bell can build on their school lessons at home.
Most exciting is when her kids pick up new Haida words or phrases without instruction. They simply hear a new word, guess its meaning, and keep it.
“It becomes a part of how you think,” Bell says.
“I feel like speaking Haida opens up a whole new worldview.”
This spring, Bell and some colleagues started up a new Xaad Kil office in Old Massett that they hope will open up all sorts of new language possibilities.
Open weekday mornings at 415B Frog Street, they are already getting set to launch a phone app that pairs images with spoken words in the northern Haida language dialect (Xaad Kil).
They also hope to offer a credited Language Proficiency Certificate program together with Simon Fraser University.
Marianne Ignace, who directs the First Nations Language Centre at SFU, will also lead some Xaad Kil storytelling from a Haida language book that has been years in the making.
While all of that excites Bell, the program co-ordinator for the new office, she also wants to hear what other people would like to try.
“We are trying to start from the beginning, to make it something that hasn’t been done before,” she said.
For example, Bell recently visited the Chief Atahm School in Chase, B.C. and picked up a language-learning technique that was totally new to her.
Called “total physical response,” it links new words with physical gestures to better remember them.
Together with Leslie Brown, the executive coordinator of the new Xaad Kil office, and Skil Jaadee White, the new resource coordinator, Bell is also hoping to work more closely with Haidas learning other dialects. Already they are planning a handy meeting around the next All-Native Basketball Tournament.
But to make sure they create programs that plenty of people are excited about, the Xaad Kil office is calling a meeting at Sarah’s Longhouse starting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30. There will also be a new Haida Language Advisory Council for the northern dialect that will vote on what programs the office should take on, and how to go about them.
Besides some favourite FAQs such as how to spell “haaw’aa” (“I get that question the most,” she said, laughing), Bell is looking forward to finding new, inclusive ways to engage the language resources Old Massett already has. It might even help a few more parents of Chief Matthews students at the end of the school day.
“Our goal is to help parents know what their children are saying,” she said, laughing.
For updates and info on the logo contest for the new Xaad Kil office, visit the @xaadkiloffice Facebook page.