British Columbia

Haida elders receive honorary doctorates for helping keep language alive

Nine Haida Elders have been given honorary doctorate degrees by Vancouver Island University for their work in preserving and teaching the Haida language. 

'It just means so much for the elders to be recognized for their work'

The nine Haida Elders of the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program, as well as program coordinator Kevin Borserio (back row, left). (Skidegate Haida Immersion Program)

Nine Haida elders have been given honorary doctorate degrees by Vancouver Island University for their work preserving and teaching the Haida language. 

In 1998, the elders created the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program to help revitalize HlGaagilda Xaayda Kil, the Skidegate dialect of the Haida language. 
    
Kevin Borserio, coordinator for the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program, says the honour is an emotional one for the elders. 

"It just means so much for the elders to be recognized for their work [and] for their dedication. They've been coming to school for 21 years, teaching and documenting the language for their children and for Haidas that aren't born yet today," Borserio told Carolina de Ryk, host of Daybreak North

Importance of Indigneous languages

Borserio says 11 additional elders have passed away since the program was launched.

Over the years, the elders have gathered five days a week for 10 months to teach and preserve the language, according to Vancouver Island University. 

"The language comes from the land and the sea. So if you ever step foot on Haida Gwaii, I believe that the essence of it is there ... it's just embodied in Haida Gwaii, and it will be there forever," Borserio said.

Nine Elders received Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees at Vancouver Island University June 3. (Denver Cross)

The federal commission into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its report Monday, calling on government and police to address endemic violence. In the report were 231 recommendations, which included giving Indigenous languages official status on par with French and English. Borserio says this is an important step. 

"We struggle with funding and the transmission of language to all the people of Haida Gwaii and non-Haida people. So it's so important that it is recognized by the settler and the immigrant and the colonial world. It would help, it would breathe life into it."

All nine elders received Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees — their names are Gaayinguuhlas (Roy Jones), Yang K'aalas (Grace Jones), Ildagwaay (Bea Harley), Taalgyaa'adad (Betty Richardson), Jiixa (Gladys Vandal) Sing.giduu (Laura Jormanainen), SGaanajaadsk'yaagaxiigangs (Kathleen Hans), Niis Waan (Harvey Williams) and GwaaGanad (Diane Brown), according to Vancouver Island University. 

Listen to the full interview here:

Nine Haida Elders have been given honorary doctorate degrees by Vancouver Island University for their work in preserving and teaching the Haida language.  8:46

With files by Daybreak North.