Haida language conference in Vancouver attracts islanders

  • Feb. 10, 2011 5:00 p.m.

A combination of old and new is helping Haida language learners up and down the coast. Not only are elders working with young learners, but new technologies are also being thrown into the mix. At the 10th Xaad Kil gidaay gudaatl’a iija: Three dialect Haida language gathering speakers and learners from Alaska, Haida Gwaii, Vancouver and Seattle gathered to update each other on their projects. Lucille Bell, who is part of the language group in Massett, said about 50 people gathered over two days in Vancouver at the downtown Simon Fraser Campus. Participants shared information about the use of new media like video-conferencing, iPod flashcards, Skype and animated film, along with more traditional methods like mentoring, the creation of an orthography and school curriculum development. “In Massett, the video conference class has been quite successful. Tsinni Claude Jones taught us xaad kil three nights a week, while we video-conferenced with Jordan Lachler and the Kiis Xaadee in Alaska,” said Ms Bell. She added that the Massett language group plans to create more animations of Haida stories to help young learners witness the language in action. As well, they are working on a songbook. The Alaskan group has also been busy. “Ben Young from Hydaburg is a young Haida who has learned xaad kil from his tsinni Miiju. Hearing Ben speak in Haida gives the elders hope that the language will survive,” she said. Mr. Young mentored with his tsinni for 5 years and now teaches a summer basketball camp in the language. The learners use Flashcard Delux, an ipod application to make flashcards on their phones. Dr. Jordan Lachler spoke about the Ketchikan Indian Language program, the Intermediate Haida grammar class and his work developing curriculum. In 2013 he hopes to have a program to pay a few learners to just learn Haida. Barb Wilson of Gwaii Haanas and Marianne Ignace of SFU shared their work on Haida place names. Ms Wilson is planning on hosting an international place names conference on Haida Gwaii. Ms Ignace spoke about the Chief Matthews Immersion program at T’alangslang, the curriculum development and a possible SFU partnership to use new technology to teach the language. Twelve people from the Skidegate language program attended, including eight fluent speakers and three young learners. They have been busy on the songs project, curriculum development, place names and recording CDs. They are now in Hawaii for 10 days and attending the Documenting Languages Conference. Ms Bell said a sub-committee is working on the orthography and the Haida alphabet. A committee to keep the three dialects in communication was also established. “We hope to use Skype to keep the language workers in contact, and to help elders interact when they review curriculum, create new words or get stuck on how to say something,” she said. The two language groups on island are also working together on the Haida Language book and a Haida Gwaii Museum exhibit to honour the elders who have been actively teaching Haida. The book and exhibit will be done by the end of May, she said.

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