As part of our celebrations of The International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019), we will be shining the spotlight on different indigenous languages from around the world throughout the coming year. In today’s blog we will be discussing the language of the Haida people, native to Canada (the Haida Gwaiia archipelago) and Alaska (Prince of Wales Island).

Like a lot of Indigenous Languages, Haida is endangered and is currently estimated to have only 14 native speakers. However, revitalisation efforts are underway, so all is certainly not lost for the language of Haida.

At the time of the European arrival at Haida Gwaii in 1774, it is estimated that Haida speakers numbered at around 15,000. Epidemics introduced by the Europeans decimated the Haida population, which became limited to three villages: Masset, Skidegate, and Hydaburg. The colonial government placed a huge focus on ‘assimilation’, motivated by a desire to eradicate indigenous cultures, and banned speaking Haida in residential schools. This lead to a sharp decline in the use of Haida language among Haida people, and today almost all Haida used English to communicate. The Haida language was once spoken in more than 30 different dialects, across all islands. Today, there are only three remaining dialects.

The language is listed as critically endangered by UNESCO, with nearly all speakers being elderly. However, Haida people are not letting their language die without a fight. In Haida Gwaii, there is a strong movement to keep the language alive, with initiatives like the Skidgate Haida Immersion Program, as well as a team of dedicated and hardworking language teachers in Masset fighting to keep the language afloat. Teachers play a huge role in keeping the regeneration of the Haida language. Kwiiagee iiwaaans (Maureen) LaGroix has been teaching the Haida language in Old Masset for many years.

The Skidgate Haida Imersion Program (SHIP) was founded in 1998, after an extremely impactful and successful 10 day Haida immersion summer session, with more than 40 students and 16 fluent teachers. Participants are welcome for full time, part time, or drop in classes and the programme is open to anyone who wishes to learn Haida. The SHIP programme has produced over 240 instructional CDs, documented more than 11,000 words in a glossary.

For more information about the Haida language, and the ongoing revitalisiation efforts, take a look at this very informative National Observer webpage!

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