First Juneau Haida language gathering to be held

This year marks the 15th International Haida Language Gathering in Southeast Alaska, and the first to be held in Juneau. This event is open to anyone interested in revitalizing the Haida Language.

There are a limited number of fluent speakers left, and most of them are elders. With their passing, the language could move from endangered to extinct unless people take an active interest keeping it alive.

The loss of fluent elders who can instruct younger teachers, the difficulty in maintaining traditional family and community activities and the U.S.-Canada border that separates Haida communities have all been obstacles and will be discussed at the gathering. At the conference, people will share ways to preserve the language and how to pass it to others through community programs, activities, curriculum development, teaching and technology.

One of the event organizers, Rob Edwardson, spoke about youth’s involvement with revitalizing the language, and how social media has helped.

“It’s easier to communicate, to encourage each other and to organize events like this one,” he said about the gathering. “There is also a surge in efforts for Tlingit and Tsimshian that directly and indirectly benefits Haida though collaboration opportunities and inspiration sharing. It is exciting to see more and more young people get involved and begin to make these movements their own, as learners and as leaders.”

The group has been involved with language revitalization efforts since 2005, with gatherings taking place in Ketchikan, Hydaburg, Seattle, Prince Rupert Island, Massett, Skidegate and Vancouver, B.C.

Skidegate Haida Immersion Program, Xaad Kihlgaa Hl Suu.u Society, Northern Haida Group, Haida Society, the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and the Sealaska Heritage Institute have all been contributors to the gathering and other efforts to preserve the language.

“The Haida language is here to stay,” Edwardson said. “It was spoken in homes and communities in Canada and Alaska for thousands of years before Canada and Alaska existed, and it will be spoken in those same places thousands of years from now. This gathering and others like it are an important part of that future.”

The gathering will take place at the new Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives and Museum at 395 Whittier St. from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1:30-4 p.m. on June 8 during Celebration week.


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