Reviving The Lost Language of Haida Through Film

by Nick Vanderent

Being of Canadian decent, this story I read from the New York Times about riving the lost language of Haida, an indigenous language of Canada, it really hit home. To give you a quick background on me, I would consider myself an Americanized Canadian. I don’t have the “aye” accent most people associate Canadians with, if you were to see or speak to me, you wouldn’t even know I was Canadian.

I’ve always been interested in my roots and about my native land and so when I came across this article titled “Reviving a Lost Language of Canada through Film”, I was instantly intrigued to know more.

The article highlights an elderly woman who is preparing for here role in the film, “Edge of the Knife”, and is speaking the Haida language for the first time in more than 60 years. Sphenia Jones was here name. She was sent to a residential school as a young girl and was forced to learn Western Culture, just like the 150,000 other indigenous children across Canada during this time.

This film was made to power the resurgence of indigenous art and culture happening all across Canada and reconcile for the horrible things these indigenous people went through at those government-funded residential schools. I can’t believe that the last one was just closed only 21 years ago in 1996!

The Haida language is on the verge of extinction with fewer than 20 fluent speakers left in the entire world. The destruction of this language is tied directly to the loss of their identity. Not being able to speak their own language by the government that rules them. Being taken from their homes and forced to learn the Western culture.

It’s great to see people like Diana Brown, an archipelago’s best-known language advocate, who teaches Haida in schools in the 1970’s, keep the spirit of Haida alive. In 1998, Ms. Brown helped found the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program, which was found to teach the southern dialect, but has shifted focus to preserve the language, drawing elderly speakers to record commonly used phrases and lessons onto thousands of audiotapes.

People like Diana, films like “Edge of the Knife”, and articles like this one, hope to keep the world aware of the struggle happening everyday to preserve the culture of an endangered culture. I couldn’t put in any better than Wade David, a University of British Columbia anthropology professor does. “The loss of one language is akin to clear-cutting an old-growth forest of the mind. The world’s complex web of myths, beliefs, and ideas”, which Mr. David calls the “ethnosphere”, “is torn, just as the loss of a species weakens the biosphere”.

About the writer

Nick Vanderent is a local business owner of The Auto Enhancers, a Window Tinting San Diego company and an enthusiast of the preservation of languages. Nick wrote this article to help spread awareness about the extinction of languages happening all over the world.

Information about Haida | Numbers in Haida


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