Haida elder Jiixa (Gladys Vandal) is presented with an honorary doctorate by Ralph Nilson, VIU president and vice-chancellor, left, and Louise Mandell, VIU chancellor, at the university’s convocation ceremony Monday. (CHRIS BUSH/Black Press Media)

Haida elder Jiixa (Gladys Vandal) is presented with an honorary doctorate by Ralph Nilson, VIU president and vice-chancellor, left, and Louise Mandell, VIU chancellor, at the university’s convocation ceremony Monday. (CHRIS BUSH/Black Press Media)

Haida ‘wisdom-keepers’ receive university’s highest honours

Nine Haida elders presented with honourary doctorates for preserving Haida language and culture

Participants in a project now 21 years old to preserve and help the Haida language thrive have been recognized by the Nanaimo-based Vancouver Island University (VIU).

Nine elders who form the core of the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP), and representing approximately half of the Skidegate Haida language’s fluent speakers, were each conferred with an honourary Doctor of Laws degree at convocation ceremonies held June 3.

“Indigenous languages are disappearing at an alarming rate,” Louise Mandell, VIU chancellor, said in her convocation address. “Every few weeks an elder dies, with an ancient tongue taken to the spirit world. The sum total of those ideas and dreams and myths and beliefs and thoughts, all that intellectual wealth lost. Canada, one of the worst situations, where 40 to 45 indigenous languages are disappearing. In Canada, Indigenous people are the only ones who can speak the language born of this land.”

Ildagwaay (Beatrice Harley), Taalgyaa’adad (Betty Richardson), Jiixa (Gladys Vandal), SGaanajaadsk’yaagaxiigangs (Kathleen Clara Hans), Niis Waan (Harvey Williams), Sing.giduu (Laura Jormanainen), GwaaGanad (Diane Brown), Yang K’aalas (Grace Velma Jones), Gaayinguuhlas (Roy Charles Jones) were all on stage, receiving their degrees from VIU president Ralph Nilson and university chancellor Louise Mandell.

They dedicated more than 20 years to preserving and revitalizing their language and culture through the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program, which they created in 1998.

The elders, whose average age is 84, lived through the time of the residential school system and are descendants of a people who numbered more than 13,000 prior to European contact that through war, disease and government policies, dwindled to just 588 souls, and represent the fight to preserve First Nations culture and languages, which are disappearing worldwide.

The group has generated more than 200 CD-ROMs, compiled 2,000 words and 500 phrases readily made available through an app, prepared 130 lesson plans and 80 children’s books and have taken part in a mapping project with more than 2,200 place names in the HIGaagida Zaayyda Kil language.

Their largest work to date is compiling “The Glossary” containing more than 26,000 Haida words.

READ MORE: Will the Village of Queen Charlotte change its name?

Speaking last week, university president Ralph Nilson called the work of the nine within SHIP a remarkable achievement.

“It is really something we would all aspire to,” he said of the goal of preserving and enhancing an Indigenous language.

The work of the nine is also being looked at by VIU with a view someday to taking an active role in Indigenous language preservation and enhancement, Nilson added.

Nilson said the honourary degrees recognize 2019 being the United Nations Year of Indigenous Languages and the university’s own work toward reconciliation.

The university has residents from communities up and down the coast among its student body, something Nilson expects to increase as it advances its reconciliation goal.

VIU became aware of SHIP through Kevin Borserio, a student at a predecessor institution to VIU, who moved to Haida Gwaii to teach physical education.

“And then he became involved in SHIP,” said Nilson of Borserio who is now its coordinator.

What followed was a nomination of the Skidegate Haida language teachers and program to a VIU committee, which decides who should receive honourary degrees each year.

“That all nine were there to receive their degrees was quite exceptional,” said Nilson.

READ MORE: Haida language stars in Edge of the Knife


Haida Gwaii Observer
Newsroom 
Send email
Like the Haida Gwaii Observer on Facebook
Follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Haida elder Niis Waan (Harvey Williams) is presented with an honorary doctorate by Ralph Nilson, VIU president and vice-chancellor, left, and Louise Mandell, VIU chancellor, at the university’s convocation ceremony Monday. (CHRIS BUSH/Black Press Media)

Haida elder Niis Waan (Harvey Williams) is presented with an honorary doctorate by Ralph Nilson, VIU president and vice-chancellor, left, and Louise Mandell, VIU chancellor, at the university’s convocation ceremony Monday. (CHRIS BUSH/Black Press Media)

Just Posted

Emergency crews respond to a structural fire on Highway 97 between Williams Lake and Quesnel on Friday, April 16. (Photo submitted)
Update: Famous Cariboo carver Ken Sheen’s wood shop destroyed by fire

The shop was located between Williams Lake and Quesnel

The Quesnel RCMP Detachment is one of seven northern police buildings which can now connect directly to Prince George for daily bail hearings. (Observer File Photo)
Bail hearings going virtual in B.C.’s north

A court pilot project will see virtual courtroom cameras set up in seven RCMP detatchments

The proposed renovations at the Quesnel Rec Centre. (CRD Drawing)
CRD approves Quesnel pool referendum date

Voters will be asked to approve borrowing $20 million to upgrade Quesnel Rec Centre

CNC’s Applied Research and Innovation had partnered with the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Cariboo Agricultural Research Alliance and Mackin Creek Farm after receiving funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership to research a number of solutions potentially extending northern growing seasons. (Photo submitted)
Ways to extend growing season in B.C.’s north explored by College of New Caledonia in Quesnel

Low-cost supplemental LED lighting appears to benefit plant growth

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Since April 4, 38 flights with COVID-19 cases have departed from Vancouver International Airport, while 23 arrived. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Vancouver the largest source of domestic flights with COVID-19 cases: data

This month alone, 38 flights with COVID-19 cases have departed from Vancouver International Airport, while 23 arrived

John Furlong, Own The Podium board chairman and former CEO of the Vancouver Olympics, addresses a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday November 25, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
John Furlong presents 2030 Winter Games vision to Vancouver Board of Trade

Vancouver and Whistler would remain among host sites because of 2010 sport venues still operational

Most Read