A Haida youth spoke of her determination to keep her language alive and thriving at a session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues this week in New York City.
Haana Edenshaw, from the Tsitts Gitanee clan, said she was also scared her generation will be the last to hear Haida spoken by someone who was born into the language.
Edenshaw’s April 22 speech at a forum session hosted by Canada, Ecuador and the Assembly of First Nations was delivered in Haida.
“I will not be stuck speaking only the language of my oppressors on my land. It makes my mind sick,” she said in relating how she is learning the Haida language and of her goals of ensuring it is passed on.
“I am determined that my children’s children will once again be born into a world where Haida is spoken all around them. And I hope the same for all Indigenous languages.”
Edenshaw travelled to New York with the assistance of the Quaker-based Canadian Friends Service Committee.
The forum, an annual event which this year began April 22 and runs until May 3, has a special significance because the United Nations has declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages with the aim of emphasizing that the right to language is a human right for all people and one that is particularly critical to Indigenous peoples.
Indigenous peoples make up less than six per cent of the world’s population, but account for 15 per cent of the poorest on earth, according to the Indigenous issues forum. They live in some 90 countries, represent 5,000 different cultures and speak the overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 6,700 languages.
Here is Haana’s speech as delivered in Haida:
Statement of Haana Edenshaw (in Haida)
K’al jaad ‘aangaa, kilslaay ‘aangaa, Xaadaa ‘laaisis,
Haana Edenshaw hanuu dii kya’aang.
Tsiits Gitanee sduu dii isgaagang. Xaayda Gwaay sduu dii ‘isgaagang.
Iitl’ gyaa Xaadee sduu Xaad kil guwee ‘laasaang han tl’a suugang.
Gyak’it gam Xaad Kil iitl’ gitalang isgyaan iitl’ tak’alang gyuudwang’angsaang, Ahljii dii ga hlGwaagaa Gusdlang.
Gam yaats’ Xaadee kil sGun hl guusuugaa’anggang. Ahljii ahluu dii gudangee st’iigang.
‘Waagyaan, guusduu t’alang ‘isdaasaang?
‘Waadluu Dii jaadaa xujuu sluu dalang ‘waadluwaan dii ahl Xaad Kil ga guusuugiinii.
Dii inaasleehl sluu, sang ‘waadluwaan Xaad Kil dii ahl adeedgang giinii.
Dii Xaad Kil uu iijang.
Iitl’ gyaahlaang Gaa Xaad Kil uu iijang, taawee hansan, iitl’ kil ‘laa hansan, iitl’ kil gulaa hansan.
Weed dii hit’an inaas uu iijang, GwaaGanad Xaad Kil Gii ahl dii hlGangulaang. ‘ll k’ul jaad uu iijang. ‘Ll Xaad Kil sk’adada ‘leeyga uu iijang. ‘ll k’yaa yahgudanggang, ahjii awaahl Gagwii sda iijang. Gudanxeewad aa. T’alang gud ahl stuujuuwaang; GwaaGanad gin k’uugaa dii ahl sk’adadang, isgyaan Xaad Kil dii ahl ‘ll sk’adadang.
Dii gitalang ‘inaas sdluu, nang k’ayas ‘laa ahl gyaahlaang ‘ll suudaasaa ‘ujaa?
Xaad Kil sk’adaga ‘leeyga iitl’ aa hl sk’aadaasaang. Gutgwaa Xaadgee ‘ineelsaang sluu, Xaad Kil ‘laa ahl gyuudaansaa ga dii gudanggang. Giitsgwaad tliisluuwaan t’alang ‘waadluuwaan Xaad Kihlga guusuusaang.
Dii yaalaang hlGaangulaas hl isdaasaa ga dii gudanggang.
Dii t’akaan kaaysaa sdluu, t’alang ‘waadluwaan Xaad Kil ga guusuusaang. Giitsgwad waadluuwaan Xaadgee gya tlagee hansan.
Dalang ‘waadluwaan ahl kil ‘laagang. Haw’aa.
Hu tlaan Geelgang. (that is all).
And here is Haana’s speech in English:
Respected women, respected men, good people.
My name is Haana Edenshaw.
I am from the Tsiits Gitanee clan on Haida Gwaii.
They say my language is dying.
I am scared that my generation will be the last to hear Haida spoken from someone who was born into the language.
I will not be stuck speaking only the language of my oppressors on my land. It makes my mind sick.
But what are we doing about it?
When I was younger I did not feel like my language could disappear.
I grew up with the Haida language all around me, and I cannot imagine my life without it.
Haida language is who I am.
It is in our stories, it is in the food we eat, it is in how we greet each other, it is in how we tease each other.
Now that I am older I have the privilege of working as a language apprentice learning from GwaaGanad, who is one of the few that still carry the language within her. Her name is an ancient one, going back to the time of godanxeewat. She not only teaches me Haida, but we also visit, she teaches me how to cook Haida foods. She tells me stories.
When my children are young will they be able to hear any Elders tell their stories in Haida?
I know there will always be teachers.
But I want future generations to be able to grow up immersed in the Haida language, and I hope that one day we can speak Haida fluently as a community again.
I am determined to carry on the work of my parents.
I am determined that my children’s children will once again be born into a world where Haida is spoken all around them. And I hope the same for all Indigenous languages.
I respectfully thank all of you for listening. Thank you.
Haida Gwaii Observer
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