Hall filled as Haida language program celebrates ten years

  • Jun. 20, 2008 10:00 a.m.

The community hall in Skidegate was filled to bursting Thursday evening, as the Skidegate Haida language program celebrated its tenth anniversary. At the head table sat about a dozen fluent speakers of Haida, many who had learned it as their first language. The hall itself was filled with SHIP students, teachers, family and well-wishers, all out to honour the elders, congratulate the students and celebrate ten years of Haida language revival in a program that originally was to last ten days.SHIP teacher Kevin Borserio, who has become fluent in the last ten years started things off.”Not many people speak the Haida language today. We only have 60 fluent speakers in the world. This is not good enough,” Mr. Borserio said, adding that Skidegate has about 25 speakers, Masset the same, with another 3 or 4 in Alaska. But while the numbers are small, there is hope, he said.”We have some promising things here. To save a language, you must teach a child, and all of us are doing that”, he said.Mr. Borserio noted that several organizations have been very supportive, including School District 50 and Gwaii Hanaas and the Band Council, that the language is available on the internet, many elders are capable of praying in Haida, many can sing in it.”We have speakers of all ages, we have over 50 instructional CDs, We no longer have governments that are trying to suppress the language as they did in the past. There is tremendous hope. Long live the Haida language”, he said.Chief Niis Wes-Ernie Wilson was the first elder to speak.”You know, it’s been ten years since we started and I for one would like to think it’s the greatest thing that ever happened,” he said.”When I went to school they wouldn’t allow us to ever speak to our own people. They tried to get rid of our language. Thanks to a few of us, we are bringing it back. Some of our young people are good at it, too, for which we are really thankful,” he said.Chief Cheexial Taaiixou-Roy Jones Jr. said it was “a pretty tragic thing that I don’t know my Haida language” and said the residential school system was a perfect success for the government. “Somehow, we are all survivors of the things that have happened”.He said he should get down to SHIP one day, because “when I get to the other side and I meet our ancestors, I am going to have to be able to talk to them”.He ended by saying “I am really proud of the SHIP program. “Today we are celebrating 10 years. And that’s big. When you can keep a group together for ten years”.Lonnie Young said “I too would like to congratulate the SHIP program. You have a very daunting task ahead of you. Thankfully we have some elders who hopefully can revive our language for us.”Gitsga said “because of this so important group, I have to say my thank you’s and my congratulations. We are so fortunate, so fortunate to have this group of committed elders who want, who must save our language. I think they have done it already. Each and everyone of them deserves thanks. So many good things will come from this.”CHN President Guujaaw said the Haida language is a real tough one to learn, “.but if Kevin can do it.” He then spoke of the apology made earlier this month by the Prime Minister, noting that it was important to help Canadians understand the problems Aboriginal people have today. And he said reviving the language is up to the Haida people.”We have had our excuses. We are the only ones who can bring it back but we just have to do it. I think it has to be a priority. We all have to do our part in making this work,” he said.Skidegate Band Councillor Robert Williams said “nothing I can say here can even begin to articulate the level of value we have sitting before us at this table. Thanks to them. They have recorded on tapes for generations to listen to, they have been teaching this language to our youth.”Diane Brown said it makes her feel proud and happy to work with the elders.”I want to say how great you are, you elders. And I know that our ancestors are smiling. They are probably rejoicing because we have come pretty close to being on the extinct list. These are the last people in our community that grew up with Haida being their first language. After this we will only have to listen to CDs. So I just want to say how wonderful it is to be part of the SHIP program,” she said. The evening continued until late with the children’s dance group, students speaking in Haida (a full thirty minutes with no other language) an open mike and a brief slide show highlighting the ten years SHIP has been going. SHIP ten years later. Truly a night to remember.