Book launch Friday in Skidegate

  • Jul. 27, 2011 2:00 p.m.

With incredible photographic portraits and moving words, a new exhibit and book will celebrate those who have dedicated their lives to saving the Haida language. That Which Makes Us Haida: The Haida Language opens tomorrow night (July 29) at the Haida Gwaii Museum in Skidegate. The exhibit features 35 portraits of some of the last fluent speakers of the three remaining Haida dialects found in Alaska, Old Massett and Skidegate. The Haida language is not just a different way of speaking, it is a different way of thinking, says Nika Collison, one of the curators of the exhibit and accompanying catalogue. “It’s how we understand our connection to the natural and supernatural. It is how we understand who we are,” she said. Many of the photographs were taken by Farah Nosh who started the project to document Haida language speakers in 2004. She would go to their homes, says Ms Collison and is very talented at gaining people’s trust at such an intimate level. Her photographs were taken with a large format, 4 x 5 inch film camera, where an entire sheet of film is devoted to one image. In her artist’s statement, Ms Nosh says that leaves the photographer with a single opportunity to explore and reveal the essence of the one being photographed.Ms Collison became involved later and the larger project started to take shape. Interviewers were hired to contact elders who are dedicated to teaching and preserving the language in all communities. These interviews were transcribed and then edited to form much of the content of the catalogue. There is a huge breadth of stories from our elders, said Ms Collison. Some went to residential school or Indian day school and others didn’t, but they grew up for a period of time with active fluent speakers in their homes. “We might have lost that part of the story from the mouths of the people who lived it,” says Ms Collison who was impressed by the elegance with which the elders speak about their lives. “You could say funny things in Haida and you laugh and laugh, and you try and explain what you were saying, and it’s not even funny in English. I would like to see everybody speaking Haida again, young and old. I think Haida will continue, if they work on it all the time,” says Primrose Adams of Old Massett in the book. The language is at a critical point, says Ms Collison. Of the 35 elders interviewed almost half have passed away since the project began. Ms Collison hopes the exhibit will not only inspire more people to learn the language, but that it will inspire more critical thinking around why there are only around 40 fluent speakers left. “It’s important that we look at Canada’s history with First Nations and accept all that happened. We all need to be willing to change and then we can move forward,” she said. Ms Collison co-curated the exhibit with Jusquan Amanda Bedard of Old Massett. A CD also accompanies the book which sells for $49.95. The show runs until October and will later tour Canada and the US.

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