Saving Canada’s Haida Culture

Written by PresidentELLA


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Canada’s Haida people are almost extinct. “Fewer than 20 fluent speakers of Haida are left in the world, according to local counts. For the Haida themselves, the destruction of their language is profoundly tied to a loss of identity,” wrote the NY Times. I agree. Language, for me, is the first initiation into a culture (in a strong competition with food and dance). I can’t begin to imagine who I would be if I didn’t speak my mother’s tounge, more so if I wasn’t allowed to. For that reason, there is a team making a move called “Edge of the Knife” meant to honor the almost lost tribe.

As a 1st generation American, I am incredibly grateful that my mother spoke Spanish at home. Although my Spanish is informal and often limited, at least I can greet my family in the appropriate, Dominican way, “‘Ción, Tia,” I say, cutting off “bendición” which means blessings, so that they can, in turn, bless me. “Diós te bedíga,” they reply… imagine I had missed out an all those blessings?

More disturbing are the stories of how it came to be that the language was lost. Unlike the Unites States’ indigenous people, or the transplanted Africans, the Haida people were forced to assimilate to western culture. Children were “sent far from home to a residential school to be forcibly assimilated into Western culture. There, any trappings of… native culture were strictly forbidden. When a teacher caught Ms. Jones [now 73 years old] learning another indigenous language from two schoolmates, Ms. Jones said, the teacher yanked out three fingernails.”

I do not mean to compare struggles nor traumas… rather highlight the fact that they exist. I had no idea that this had happened to these people, right across my border. The people recounting their stories are about my mother’s age. It is amazing to see how far we have (or have not) come from those times of racism and bigotry. It pains me to find comfort in knowing that there are all sorts of discriminated, hated cultures on this globe due to pure ignorance. 

Mr. Williams, 58, spent seven terrible years in a residential school.

“I don’t call this reconciliation,” he said. “Something was taken. We are taking it back.”

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its damning report two years ago, shocking Canadians with haunting accounts of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect that indigenous children suffered in the residential schools over more than a century. The report outlined 94 recommendations — “calls to action” — which various governments, institutions and citizens across the country are grappling with, particularly this year, Canada’s 150th anniversary.

The commission called on the government to invest heavily in the revitalization of indigenous languages, noting it spends just 9.1 million Canadian dollars on programs supporting dozens of them each year, compared with 348.2 million Canadian dollars on the country’s two official languages, French and English.

– Catherine Porter, NY Times 7/11/17

I’m actually interested to watch the “Edge of the Knife”  movie because of the history of it’s people. Most of the actors are just learning the language for the fist time, and while I won’t be able to correct them, I’ll want to cheer them on. I think it’s important that people nurture, care for and celebrate their individual cultures. The idea of societies facing extinction is one I think the world needs to pay attention to. At times, I feel we are so inclusive, that we don’t honor our differences. What about those of us who want to stay OUT of the melting pot and be exactly who we can in as? 

Anyhow…this was in the news… & these are just my thoughts..


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