Sunday, May 4, 2014

Interview: Haida Language

Haida Native Language
It was difficult for me to get more information on the Haida language because the organization that are trying to preserve the language has not responded. I will provide history of the Haida language and what efforts the people are doing to keep the native language alive.
There were two major dialect groups: Northern and Southern Haida. The Northern Haida had two sub dialects: Alaskan or Kaigani Haida and Masset Haida. The Southern Haida sub dialects were Skidegate and Ninstints. The Ninstints is extinct while the other three survived but there are a small number of fluent and knowledgeable speakers.

Due to the encounter with the Europeans and the spread of smallpox, it hurt the Haida population who received the worst of the smallpox disease. The result was two Haida villages on Queen Charlotte Island (Masset and Skidegate) and one in Alaska (Hydaburg). The language was basis of Northern Northwest Coast trade jargon. This jargon began with earliest traders on the coast who recorded and passed on lists of Haida words. However, the language was not respected by whites. With the constant encounters with different European groups, it contributed a lot for the fate of the Haida language because the problems made changes to the Haida culture.

The first blow to Haida language was when Haida children were sent away to residential schools. These schools strictly enforced policy that only English was the spoken language. The second blow to the language was "linguistic suicide." In 1930 in Massey, some households adopted a policy of only using English when speaking to children. In present day, between the ages of 70 to 80, the language is simplified. Between ages 50 to 70, they have a comprehension but are non speakers and below 50 have no understanding of the language.

The language of any culture is important to study or research because it makes that culture unique. There are a lot of external and internal factors that can contribute to the harm or benefit of a groups language. No groups language should die out or not be recorded because it doesn't allow the culture to be unique or have a specific form of history.

Haida Native Language:
Haida Syntax by John Enrico


The Haida cosmos were divided in three zones: the sky world, the earth, and the underworld. The earth, according to Haida people was a flat circular form which hanged with solid firmament. It also consisted of two islands: the Haida Land (Queen Charlotte Islands) and the Seaward Country (the mainland).

Sacred One
The land was supported by the Sacred-One-Standing-and-Moving, a supernatural being, who rested on a copper box. When he moved, their would be an earthquake. On its breast was a pole or pillar that supported the Haida land and extended through the top of the firmament into the sky world. The pole symbolized a cedar tree that grows at the center of the land. Power flows through the pole and attached to the top are strings that reach every village on the land and controls the weather.

The supernatural one
The cosmic trees have 3 main zones of cosmos: roots into the underworld; trunk extends from the earth; and branches that spread into the firmament. What was most important to Haida was to maintain the harmony between cosmic zones. Disharmony resulted in harmful events in the human world such as bad fish run, severe storms, landslide or other nature disasters.

Sacred One and the supernatural one:
Haida Monumental Art: Villages of the Queen Charlotte Islands by George MacDonald

Cultural Survivial

Reflection of the National Park
Because the native Haida people were so protective over their land, they made sure in the future that their land was protected and not destroyed by invaders or other group of outsiders. Modern Haida people decided to create national parks to prevent their land from being destroyed and their culture from being lost.
Logging, the act of cutting, skidding on-site processing and loading of trees or logs onto trucks, in the 1970's and 1980's expanded and led to controversy. This influenced efforts to protect Gwaii Haanas, native name of the land. To prevent the expansion of logging, Haida Nation created "Haida Heritage Site" (1985), which took up the southern third of archipelago, chain of islands, but the logging still continued.

Native Haida Village Site
In 1987, logging ended with the signing of South Moresby Memorandum of Understanding and South Moresby Agreement a year later. In 1993, the government of Canada and the Council of the Haida Nations signed Gwaii Haanas Agreement which changed the name of the national park established by the agreements in 1987 to the native name. This agreement showed respect for both Canadian and Haida interests and mutual consensus of the protection of Gwaii Haanas. The official name of the park became Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site also known as Gwaii Haanas. The national park has brought economic benefits to Haida and non-Haida people and has displayed the beauty of the land.

Native Haida Village Site:
Reflection of the National Park:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Migration and Diaspora

Haida Settlement on the coastline
Haida people lived near water, wither the Pacific Ocean or inland rivers or lakes, and relied strongly on water for their survival. The temperature on the island were moderate which allowed the people to fish all year round. Because the people had access to year-round food, Haida people did not migrate or move; they lived sedentary lives in permanent house, villages, and settlements. When the Pacific Ocean or other body of waters would freeze for the winter, Haida people lived in their villages. When the summer would come around, they moved to temporary camps near the fishing grounds since their diet consisted of fish and seafood.

There have been no other found records of Haida people or their neighbors moving to other parts of the world. The only migration noted was the movement between the islands of Alaska to the islands of British Columbia, Canada.

Picture and source
Haida settlement on the coastline:


Haida and their Neighbors

Location of Tlingit
Totem pole of Tlingit
Two Tlingit girls
Haida people trade with a lot of other tribes of Northwest Coast. The most notable tribe that they traded with is Tlingit. Tlingit are indigenous people of Pacific Northwest coast of North America. The name for themselves is Lingit which means "People of the Tides." Tlingit are a matrilineal society with a complex hunter-gatherer culture and semi-sedentary fisheries. Tlingit have a strong connection with family and kinship within their tribe. Due to the spread of European culture and disease, such as the smallpox, many Tlingit people converted to Orthodox Christianity as a way of resisting assimilation which soon died off.

Similar to the native Haida clans, Tlingit are divided into two moieties, descent groups, called the Raven and the Eagle. Tlingit also took a favor to totem poles which influenced art and spirituality to all areas of Tlingit culture. Haida liked to buy caribou hides and fine weavings of Tlingit. In present day, both groups belong to a coalition called Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska which handles tribal government on behave of the villages. Haida also share an island with Tlingit speakers which would explain their close relation in culture and art.

Pictures and Sources
Location of Tlingit:
Totem pole of Tlingit:
Two Tlingit girls:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Birds of the Homeland of Haida

Bald Eagle

The Bald Eagle is the only sea eagle endemic to North America. The average life span is around 20 years. The bald eagle stays near open water year round and moves south if water freezes. Similar to the Haida people and their love for salmon, the bald eagle is spotted a lot during the winter because of the salmon spawning. The Eagle is very important to the Haida people because it was the name of one of the clans of the native Haida.
Black Oystercatcher
Found on shoreline of western North American. The Oystercatcher ever strays far from shores, favoring rocky shorelines. They tend to be very territorial during nesting season. The Oystercatcher feeds on marine invertebrates and uses its strong bill to dislodge food and pry shells open.

Common Raven
Common Raven: aka Northern Raven. Found across Northern Hemisphere. The Ravens prefer wooded areas with large expanses of open land nearby or coastal regions for nesting sites and feeding grounds. Often located in coastal regions because areas provide easy access to water, variety of food sources, and stable weather patterns. They can live up to 21 years in the wild. The Ravens are mainly omnivorous but their diet varies depending on location and season. The Raven is important to the Haida culture because the Raven was the name of the clan and is seen as a "cultural hero." The Raven helps the people and shapes their world for them but can also be misleading at times.

Bald Eagle:
Black Oystercatcher:
Common Raven:


Friday, April 4, 2014

World of Haida

Haida people in the smokehouse
Haida are known for the vast fishing skills, which they relied on for money and for food. Haida relied heavily on the Pacific Ocean and inner bodies of water for food, which resulted in their diet being heavily based on fish, specifically halibut and salmon, razor clams, shellfish, seaweed, herring roe on kelp "k'aaw," and many other treats. Salmon and halibut were stable foods and highly valued among the Haida people. The fish was put in smokehouses to dry and preserve during winter months. Haida cooked their fish by smoking them over fires.

Totem Poles
Haida are also known as the best carvers, painters, canoe and housing builders. Aside from trading fish, they also earned money by selling carved objects of wood and slate to traders and tourist. The most visible art form is the totem pole. The totem poles, carved from giant cedar trees, depict beings, or crest animals, marking a family lineage and validating rights and privileges that families held. The totem poles also honored important events or people and stylized human, animal, and natural forms. Haida held special events for the rising of totem poles which symbolize the value of the totem poles. 
Haida Village

The houses of Haida people were built of huge cedar beams and planks worked out with adzes and wedges made of stone. Each house had a single carved pole in the middle. The end posts in front were carved and whole front of the house was painted. The houses were big enough for each family and no one took up a large amount of land that was not needed.

Pictures & Sources
Haida people in the smokehouse:
Totem poles:
Haida Village: