Haida language program will celebrate ten years

  • Jun. 13, 2008 7:00 a.m.

What started as training for elders to give a two-week accelerated language course has turned into 10 years of teaching and preserving the Skidegate Haida language. In that time elders have recorded more than 60 CDs of Haida language lessons, around 2500 phrases, and several CDs of life stories and legends. Over the years those dedicated elders – the last of those who grew up with Haida as a first language – have also recorded 1200 old Skidegate Haida place names on the islands and have renamed the streets in Skidegate Village with new Haida names. “These aren’t just translations,” said Diane Brown, who has been involved with the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP) since its early days. “They went to the history of each area for those names and connected it to something there or nearby,” she says. Program attendees and their invited guests will honour the elders at a 10th anniversary celebration Thursday. Ms Brown says SHIP participants never expected to be around so long. She says the program started as a School District program, but over the years the generous support of the Skidegate Band Council, has enabled them to keep it going. Other highlights include the time when four elders, Ada Yavonovich, Watson Price, Ernie Wilson and John Williams, received their adult Dogwood certificates through the program. Mr. Price, 96 at the time, might have been the oldest man in the world to graduate from high school thanks to SHIP, Ms Brown said. Their dedication knocks you over, said Ms Brown who remembers being tired and going to pick up her dad, Mr. Price, for classes and found him, at 99 years old, raring to go. “That’s what the elders do, is they fill you with such energy,” she said. There are only 20 or 25 fluent speakers left in Skidegate, she says. “This is anyone’s last chance to here the language from the real people.” Twenty students are attending SHIP night classes this year and the youngest is four years old. Ms Brown says the girl has attended with her parents since she was just a baby and would run around and play like one would expect. But the reward came last year when one day she just started making sentences and pronouncing perfectly. “All along she was just absorbing it,” said Ms Brown.

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