Nine Elders represent about half of fluent Haida speakers today.

Primary Media
An older man and two young women sit at a desk stacked with papers, books, and binders. In the background are more small groups sitting at tables.
Credit: Haida Gwaii Skidegate
Published On: January 16, 2024

Take a moment to think about your favourite story.

Now imagine that story being at risk of disappearing because the language it’s written in is endangered. This is something that nine Elders from Haida Gwaii, British Columbia, are passionately trying to change.

Once there were over 15,000 fluent speakers of Haida, but today, because of assimilation tactics like residential schools, almost all Haida people speak English at home. The nine Elders—with an average age of more than 80—represent about half of the fluent Haida speakers who remain.

With partner support, the work of these Elders in a research-based revitalization project keeps the Haida language alive and growing.

The Elders teach students the words, phrases, songs and stories of their ancestors. The response has been empowering, with language learners near and far dedicating themselves to study. Lessons are given through the Longhouse of Skidegate village, but the program reaches much further, with more than 120 online lessons available. The opportunity to connect across the globe has allowed Haida language, stories, and culture to be shared broadly.

The program also gives young people from the Haida Nation the opportunity to connect with the Elders to nurture their cultural pride and understanding. “I appreciate the work the Elders are doing with our language and culture,” said one young student. “They work very hard every day so that my generation can remember.”

The Haida language is not the only Indigenous language that has been endangered. Your gifts to Mission and Service support programs and partnerships for Indigenous cultural revitalization around the world.