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This book provides an insider view of Haida language, AND SEMIOTICS
history, and culture, and offers a perspective on Haida
culture that comes not only from external research but 85
also from intimate knowledge and experiences the author
has had as a Haida Nation citizen. The book’s focus on
language—past, present, and future—allows insight into

Emerging from out of the Margins

the Haida language documentation and revitalization process
that will benefit other cultures currently addressing similar
issues with their language. Being able to write and discuss
Haida culture as an insider affords the opportunity to
instantiate the role of a First Nations scholar including the
intricacies involved in having a voice about one’s own
culture and history. A First Nations person publishing a
book about his or her own culture is a rare opportunity.
However, such publications will become more common
as other indigenous scholars and writers emerge from
other margins around the world.

Frederick White, Ph.D., is Associate Professor in the

English Department at Slippery Rock University of
Pennsylvania. His book Ancestral Language Acquisition
among Native Americans: A Study of a Haida Language
Class addresses the question of how Native American
and First Nations students learn and participate in the
classroom setting.

Essays ON Haida Language,

Culture, AND History

White_DD_Hardcover:rauch dd no metallic.qxd 1/12/2014 6:21 AM Page 1


This book provides an insider view of Haida language, AND SEMIOTICS
history, and culture, and offers a perspective on Haida
culture that comes not only from external research but 85
also from intimate knowledge and experiences the author
has had as a Haida Nation citizen. The book’s focus on
language—past, present, and future—allows insight into

Emerging from out of the Margins

the Haida language documentation and revitalization process
that will benefit other cultures currently addressing similar
issues with their language. Being able to write and discuss
Haida culture as an insider affords the opportunity to
instantiate the role of a First Nations scholar including the
intricacies involved in having a voice about one’s own
culture and history. A First Nations person publishing a
book about his or her own culture is a rare opportunity.
However, such publications will become more common
as other indigenous scholars and writers emerge from
other margins around the world.

Frederick White, Ph.D., is Associate Professor in the

English Department at Slippery Rock University of
Pennsylvania. His book Ancestral Language Acquisition
among Native Americans: A Study of a Haida Language
Class addresses the question of how Native American
and First Nations students learn and participate in the
classroom setting.

Essays ON Haida Language,

Culture, AND History


Irmengard Rauch
General Editor

Vol. 85

This book is a volume in a Peter Lang monograph series.

Every title is peer reviewed and meets
the highest quality standards for content and production.

New York  Washington, D.C./Baltimore  Bern
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Essays ON Haida Language,

Culture, AND History

New York  Washington, D.C./Baltimore  Bern
Frankfurt  Berlin  Brussels  Vienna  Oxford
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
White, Frederick H.
Emerging from out of the margins: essays on Haida language,
culture, and history / Frederick White.
p. cm. — (Berkeley insights in linguistics and semiotics; vol. 85)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Haida language—Acquisition. 2. Haida language—Study
and teaching (Elementary)—British Columbia. 3. Second language
acquisition. 4. Haida Indians—History. 5. Haida Indians—
Social life and customs. I. Title.
PM1271.W555 497’.28—dc23 2012049103
ISBN 978-1-4331-1666-7 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-4539-1087-0 (e-book)
ISSN 0893-6935

Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek.

Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the “Deutsche
Nationalbibliografie”; detailed bibliographic data is available
on the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de/.

The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability
of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity
of the Council of Library Resources.

© 2014 Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York

29 Broadway, 18th floor, New York, NY 10006

All rights reserved.

Reprint or reproduction, even partially, in all forms such as microfilm,
xerography, microfiche, microcard, and offset strictly prohibited.

Printed in Germany
To my Nani (Sarah White) and Tsini (Clement White)

To my Wife, Teresa

To my Children: Jod, Elias, Hasia, Aleksander, & Adriela

To my Mother, Margaret Bernhard

To all my siblings: Don, Winnie, Peter White, Gerald Rose, & Babe

To my Aunts: Martha, Alberta, & Shirley

To my Uncles: Ronald, Nelson, Clifford, & Robert

To all my cousins, nieces, and nephews

To all Haida Laas

And to our Creator

Demaanuu haaw’aa
Haida Gwaii

The isles of mist, rain, sunshine, wind, snow, rocks, sand, soil, trees
and Haida are indeed lovely.
I am drawn to this land, the land of my people.
Haida Gwaii, the homeland of the Haidas,
Where the bond is strong, though I have only been there once.
The people, mountains, sea, ocean, deer, eagles and ravens all cohabitate.
These shores, beaches, cedar, spruce, pine provide the landscape
with life, color, presence.

My ancestors have been here more than nine thousand years,

look around and see why.

Salmon: sockeye, coho, spring, and dog,

provides health, wealth, and lineage.
Halibut, herring, oolichans, crabs, and seaweed are also staples of the diet.
Salmon berries, blueberries, huckleberries,
season the isles with flavor and color;
sweet, tart, orange, blue, and red.

History, mystery, and mythology pervade in Haida Gwaii.

Nani, tsini, keepers of knowledge, teach me more.

Speak to me in the tongue of our people,

speak to me tenderly,
speak passionately,
speak slowly,
speak, and
I will listen,
speak so I may speak as well.

My voice needs strength,

My mind needs sobriety,
My life needs faith,
My life needs you, nani and tsini.

Teach me about Haida Gwaii.


Acknowledgments................................................................................ xi
1. Introduction ........................................................................................... 1

Part I. Haida Culture and History

2. Haida Mythology................................................................................. 17
3. Was New Spain Really First?: Rereading Juan Pérez’s
1774 Exploration of Ha’ada Gwaii ..................................................... 25
4. Haida Humor ......................................................................................... 45
5. Why Raven Stole the Light: Revisiting Haida Oral History............... 63

Part II. Haida Language: History,

Struggles, and Future

6. Haida Language: A Brief Overview .................................................... 75

7. Rethinking Native American Language Revitalization........................ 81
8. Linguistic Strategies Encountered at a Haida Immersion Camp .......... 99
9. Revisiting Haida Cradle Song 67....................................................... 119
10. Lost in Translation: Expressing Haida Ideology in English .............. 133
11. Technology and Haida Language Revitalization............................... 141

Works Cited ...................................................................................... 153

Index.................................................................................................. 165

“Haida Gwaii” originally appeared in American Indian culture and research journal,
18:3, (1994), p. 123.

Chapter 2 originally appeared as “Haida mythology.” In A.T. Peterson & D. J.

Dunworth (Eds). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of World Folklore. (pps. 38–44).
Greenwood Press: Westport, CT. 2005.

Chapter 3 originally appeared as “Was New Spain really first?: Rereading Juan
Pérez’s 1774 Exploration of Ha’ada Gwaii” in Canadian Journal of Native Studies.
XXV (2), (627–650), 2005.

Chapter 6 is part of Chapter 2, “Haida historical background.” Ancestral Language

Acquisition Among Native Americans: A study of a Haida Language Class. New
York: Edwin Mellen Press. 2008.

Chapter 7 “Rethinking Native American Language Revitalization.” In American

Indian Quarterly, 30 (1–2), (91–109), 2006.

Chapter 8. An earlier version of this chapter appeared as “Linguistic strategies

encountered at a Haida immersion camp.” University of British Columbia Working
Papers in Linguistics, 14, (403–418), 2004.

Chapter 9. Reprinted from Born in the Blood: On Native American Translation

edited Brian Swann by permission Press of the University of Nebraska Press.
Copyright 2011 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Press.
Chapter 1


In choosing a title for this book, a daunting task to be sure, I want to

unveil the Haida, their language, and their culture from an indigenous
perspective. This is a rare perspective since most researchers—past and
present—of Haida language and culture have not been Haida. Historically,
the research that appeared concerning Haida language and culture has had
little significance to the actual Haida community. Largely, the academic
research—both linguistic and cultural—has its audience outside of Haida
Gwaii. At best, this exclusion of the Haida community was an oversight. I
do not want to engage in assessing motivation, but with the evidence of
such little research ever benefiting the Haida community, I can easily
attribute excluding the Haidas simply as a “past practice” scenario that
researchers often employed. Simply put, the practice of excluding the Haida
community from benefits of the linguistic and cultural research is a habit
started by the initial researchers. But the earliest research is certainly
different, and since few Haidas were literate at that time, it must have been
easy not to present the results of the research to the Haida community. The
perspective I have for this work contrasts those efforts and seeks to include
both the academic community and the Haida community, and certainly not
to exclude one or the other.
Context then places the content of these essays in a perceptual
framework of an insider. In anthropological terms, the perspective of an
insider or outsider rests mainly upon birth within a given community.
Studying one’s own culture is the perspective as an insider. However, given
the context of Haida culture in Canada, North America, and then in the
world, even as an insider, my stance is situated within a well-defined margin.
We learn from kindergarten what margins are and how important those
margins are. It will take a few more years to realize that the metaphor of a
line on a piece of paper has relevant implications for life. Some synonyms
for margin—edge, border, fringe, periphery, and outskirts—reflect the
deictic placement that is part of being insignificant. A margin is a dividing
line, most often red, that reveals three things:
2 Introduction

1. What is on the ‘right’ side of the margin is where pictures, words,

or ideas are allowed to be and are supposed to be;
2. That the other side of the margin is to be avoided and left alone;
3. Occasionally, the margin serves as a place of commentary about
what is on the “right” side of the margins.

The first definition reveals what is right, acceptable, and normal: it is

where things should be. The second definition reveals that the margin is an
area to avoid, that you are not supposed to write or draw in the margins.
The third definition seemingly contradicts the first, but contextually,
teachers and other authorities have always maintained the right to write,
draw, and even offer comments within the margins. Society, which
defines mainstream and margins, has recognized certain peoples’ locus as
being the margins, and occasionally has also allowed voices from those
margins as representatives from their borders to the mainstream.
I situate myself within the third definition for this book as a
representative from a socially recognized margin. Though I am Haida, I was
not born on Haida Gwaii. So even within the Haida community, in some
ways I am marginalized because I was born in Prince Rupert rather than
on Haida Gwaii. Given Haida Gwaii’s physical location in Canada, the
larger political community often defines, delineates, and debates Haida
sovereignty and identity. Haida Gwaii and its people, therefore, instantiate
geographical, linguistic, and cultural marginality. I find, though, that these
are salient margins. The Oxford English Dictionary defines salient as:
“the starting-point of anything; standing above or beyond the general
surface or outline” (OED online). It is fitting that a perspective about Haida
language and culture actually comes from within, and not as an outsider
looking in, but an insider trying to project from within to the rest of the
world. Salient margins suggest an alternative to the mainstream definition of
indigenous identity and being (See Crosby 1991:268).
In addressing culture and language, the two subjects are very deeply
intertwined, and as such, at times very difficult to talk just about one and
not the other. The Oxford English Dictionary offers two aspects in defining

1. The distinctive ideas, customs, social behaviour, products, or way of

life of a particular society, people, or period. Hence: a society or
group characterized by such customs,
2. With modifying noun: a way of life or social environment
characterized by or associated with the specified quality or
thing; a group of people subscribing or belonging to this.
Introduction 3

While it is interesting to note that language is absent in these two

aspects of culture, even so, part of belonging to a culture is a sense of
Some researchers suggest language is simply part of our human
behavior (Chandrasekar 2008; Gray 1935; Morris 1946; Kodish 2003/4;
Skinner 1957) and if so, then the OED definition does contain reference to
language as part of cultural behavior. But the intricacies involved in
extracting or isolating language from culture is not easy. Language and
culture are, at times, inextricable from each other. Silverstein, in grappling
with both language and culture succinctly writes,

Whenever languages and other, perilinguistic semiotic systems are used in their
ubiquitous human habitats, cultures as well as people can be said to be
communicating. In discursively mediated interaction, whether as “native” users or
as analyst-investigators, we perceive ourselves to be sending and receiving messages
to and from so-called real or fictional individuals; we communicate about states of
affairs concerning all manner of experienceable and imaginable things. But we are at
the same time experiencing culture by communicating through this exemplar,
medium, and site: language-in-use. (2004:621)

What we encounter in all human communities, then, is the finely woven

tapestry of culture and language constantly manifesting in all human
Culture is a seemingly simple word, yet has multiple levels of complexity.
Historically, for most of the indigenous populations of the world, researchers
interested in indigenous communities have come with their preconceived
notions of what culture is, how it looks, and how it acts (see Boas 1940:260).
As these scholars encounter unknown communities, much of their
observations result in a comparative perspective to their own culture. Their
interest in other communities’ behavior and customs, much of the time,
divorces the intricately woven patterns of discourse practices from any
influence on the very behavior and customs they have been observing. Ochs,
though writing about language socialization, warns that generalizations can
have detrimental effects, “for one thing, cultures are essentialized, and
variation in communicative practices within communities is under-
emphasized” (1999:231). Often, mainstream researchers define the indigenous
culture based on their findings, and at the speed of publication, the indigenous
community suffers categorization that rarely, if ever, can or will change.
Language is also a multifarious topic. When we discuss language,
many things can fill our minds with possible subjects. Chomsky provides an
interesting parameter for language in his book, Language and Mind. The
constraint he sets is exclusive to humanity, “When we study human
4 Introduction

language, we are approaching what some might call the ‘human essence,’
the distinctive qualities that are, so far as we know, unique to man”
(2006:88). Some of these qualities normally associated with language
comprise of linguistic knowledge, which in any given language includes
knowledge of the sound system, knowledge of words, knowledge of
sentences, knowledge of nonsentences (see Fromkin et al, 2007:11; Rowe
& Levine 2009:3; Radford et al. 2009:3). With linguistic knowledge, the
fundamentals of what you know contrast with linguistic performance of
how you use language. The latter is simply a fraction of the former.
Within the scope of conventional linguistic investigation, research
categories concentrate on the universals of language, such as phonology
(the sound system in each language), morphology (word formation),
semantics (system of meanings), syntax (rules of sentence structure), and
vocabulary (the words, or lexicon). Within the last 50 years, other fields
have opened, including applied linguistics, linguistic anthropology, and
sociolinguistics with importance of exploring language acquisition,
language and power, language and prestige, language death, and language
revitalization (De Bot & Stoessel 2002; Grenoble & Whaley 1998, 2005;
McCarty, Romero, & Zepeda, 2006; Walsh 2005). The last two, language
death and revitalization, are very apropos concerning the Haida since the
current state of the Haida language balances on the precipice of dying
(Blackman 1982:7; Enrico 2003:6). It is this notion of disappearing
languages among the Native Americans that motivated Franz Boas (1911) to
initiate efforts to capture many of the North American Indigenous languages
before they vanished, and Haida was among his list of tribal languages he
wanted recorded. Boas sent one of his protégés, John Swanton, to record
the Haida tongue before it was too late, and Swanton spent precious time
on Haida Gwaii recording details about Haida language, history, and
narratives (Swanton 1905, 1908, 1911) before its predicted demise.
When we consider language death, we encounter some important
assumptions about language. If languages could die, that must mean they
are alive, right? But are languages actually alive? If we extend the
metaphor that languages are living, then we apply the same reasoning to
the idea that languages can die. What does that mean? How do languages
die? When linguists say a language lives, it is not because the language is a
biological entity that goes through the stages of birth, life, and death, it is a
metaphorical statement about the current state of the language in question
(Nettle & Romaine 2000:5).
In the late 1830’s, Wilhelm von Humbolt (1836–39) describes the Kawi
language of Java in terms of activity using the Greek word energeia.
Introduction 5

English traces its word for ‘energy’ from this Greek term, energeia.
Applying the notion that language is an activity, if the speakers employ
the language, it is activity, but if the speakers do not speak the language,
there is no activity, thus, no energy (see Matthews 1997:165). Since
language is not a biological entity within humans, such that it could be
removed physiologically, it is difficult to maintain the idea that language
is alive. What usually happens is a shift to another language for various
reasons, but with the result that a more dominant language has replaced the
ancestral language (see Tsung 2005; Tulloch 2006). Yet, we do see the
effects of speakers when they stop speaking their ancestral language. It looks
and feels like death.
Two main reasons for language death involve languages dying because
speakers are not speaking it or are not allowed to speak it. Research on this
phenomenon reveals four distinct types of language death, summarized by
Hans-Jürgen Sasse:

1. Sudden language death: refers to situations in which a language

dies because its speakers suddenly die. For example, the
aboriginal languages of Tasmania.
2. Radical language death: rapid decline and loss due, for example, to
sever political repression where speakers stop speaking language
for self-defense (e.g. the case of Cacaopera and Lenca in El
Salvador). Radical language death may also result from cultural
disruption and dislocation.
3. Bottom-to-top language death: refers to a situation where the
decline of a language begins in low domains and spreads to high
spheres of usage (and is sometimes maintained in a ritualized form
in particular contexts: e.g. religion). Also know as the “Latinate
Pattern” of language death.
4. Gradual language death: this type is considered as the (truest)
and most common form of language death, referring to the loss
of a language due to the gradual shift towards a dominant language
(with an intermediate stage of bilingualism). Most Native
American languages, Australian languages, etc. (Sasse 1992:22)

The Haida find themselves in the last category as a result of the shift to
English. But the shift is not necessarily a simple process, it can be a series of
events affecting the shift from one language to another. Romaine views the
progression in light of many factors, “Where language use changes, there is
an underlying social upheaval that may have environmental, economic, or
6 Introduction

political causes” (2002:138). At times that upheaval results in the complete

loss of the ancestral language.
If we maintain that languages can die, can this death be averted? If an
indigenous community has shifted from the ancestral language to a
mainstream dominant language, is it possible to shift back to the
ancestral language? This question is currently being answered with the
Haida community, and many other First Nations and Native American
communities, and indeed, indigenous communities all over the world. While
it is true that the shift from Haida to English has been gradual (see Armitage
1995:204; Enrico 2003:5), as long as there are speakers of the Haida
language, there seems to be hope for the language.
The effort to revitalize Haida has grown intensely in the last few years,
especially in light of the fact that a small number of fluent native speakers
of the language are still alive. The last generation of Haidas that learned
Haida as a first language were born between 1920 and 1945 with a few
exceptions. Enrico believes that after 1930 few households maintained
Haida as a first language (2003:7). One of the key factors to any language’s
survival and thrival is when children acquire the language. Nettle and
Romaine argue that when children no longer learn the language of the
parents, the language is dead, and that, “Death occurs when one language
replaces another over its entire functional range, and parents no longer
transmit the language to their children” (2000:7). In this situation,
therefore, Haida has suffered its death in the 1930’s or early 1940’s, but
with fluent speakers still alive, the Haida community has focused
concerted efforts on language revitalization even though its language is
critically endangered.
Joshua Fishman devised a scale for language endangerment that traces
the use of language from a daily in all situations, to slowly being removed
from particular events, to not passing the language on to children. The scale
seems appropriate for modern communities where the ancestral language
succumbs to the dominant language. How long does this take? Why does
this happen? Why are so many researchers claiming that numerous
languages are in danger of dying (see (Basham & Fatham 2008:577; Grenoble
& Whaley 2005:5; Hale 2001; Kirkness 1998:6; McCarty 2008:201;
Romaine 2006:441). Answers to these questions are almost as unique as each
community, but the pattern is similar in most situations beginning with
learning a new language that eventually so dominates the community that
switching to the new language seems ‘natural.’ Here’s the progression:

Stage 1: Some language use by higher levels of government and in

higher education.
Introduction 7

Stage 2: Language is used by local government and in the mass media

in the minority community.
Stage 3: Language is used in places of business and by employees in
less specialized work areas.
Stage 4: Language is required in elementary schools.
Stage 5: Language is very much alive and used in community.
Stage 6: Some intergenerational use of language.
Stage 7: Only adults beyond childbearing age speak the language.
Stage 8: Only a few elders speak the language. (adopted from
Fishman 1991:88–109)

All three Haida dialects are in stage 8 of the endangerment scale, but all
three communities are working hard to bring the language back to life.
Interestingly, while cultural renewal has occurred among the Haida in
relation to art, history, dancing and singing, the language renewal efforts
have been harder to maintain. Fishman suggests that five key factors
affect returning to the indigenous language, or in this case, reversing the
language shift from English back to Haida. The first two are most
insightful in explaining that language shift has a devastating impact on the
community. Fishman argues,

(1) the loss of a traditionally associated ethnocultural language is commonly the

result of many ongoing departures from traditional culture, thereby robbing that
culture of most of its erstwhile and potential defenders and establishing a rival
identity that does not require (although may still claim to admire) the traditionally
associated language; (2) organizing on behalf of a traditionally associated but
weak language is competitively depicted and regarded as social mobility
contraindicated, parochial and anti-modern. (2001:21)

What Fishman observes in the first key is how culture is also lost in the
transition to the other language, but with that loss, there is also a very
prominent shift in terms of identification, that the community no longer sees
itself by its own language, but rather, from the language of the mainstream.
The next key continues with more emotional affect concerning identity, that
the ancestral language is no longer fashionable, or modern.
Tulloch notes the power social impact concerning that transition from an
ancestral language to the mainstream: “one factor influencing speakers’ shift
to a new language or dialect is the relative prestige of the speech forms and
their users” (2006:273). Speaking the traditional language thus becomes less
prestigious and shunned as a result, and with the history of residential schools
in Canada, the value and prestige of all indigenous languages had a
profoundly devastating impact on indigenous language survival (Armitage
8 Introduction

1995:110; Benyon 2008:55; Herriman & Burnaby 1996:211; Patrick

For researchers and native speakers, the loss of the ancestral language in
daily use and eventual extinction has impact upon cultural continuity as
well (Hinton, Vera, & Steele 2002:xiv). When a language dies,
irretrievable cultural knowledge disappears as well (Austin 2008:8;
Collison 2010: 26; Fromkin et al. 2007:497; Nettle & Romaine
2000:11). The following list only partially captures what knowledge we
lose when a language dies:

Identity Geography History

Science Mathematics Literature
Ecology Counting Art
Meteorology Calculations Cosmology
Astronomy Philosophy Worldview
Biology Kinship View of time
Plant-food Structure Creation accounts
Medicine Grammar Diversity
Animals Syntax Destiny

Thus, documenting the language is one of the crucial steps in revitalizing the
language. Payne (2005) offers some very important comments concerning the
effect of documentation on a community that addresses the speakers and their
own perception of the value of their language. He observes that the power of
documentation efforts on some communities can promote and sustain further
efforts because:

The mere existence of a good dictionary, collection of texts, and grammatical

description confers a certain status on a language that may have previously been
considered to be of little importance, by speakers and non speakers alike. Good
linguistic research communicates to minority language speakers and to surrounding
groups that the minority language is worthy of respect. (Payne 2005: 235)

It is quite illuminating to see the impact of texts such as

dictionaries—such that Payne qualifies the existence with ‘mere’—has on
communities since with a text, because there is at least some artifact of
the language to work with to learn and study. The Haida community
indeed values its language once more, which crucial for the respect
the language needs to survive and thrive.
Preserving the Haida language is an effort to preserve the culture. With
the Haida language at a crucial stage of loss, Haida cultural renewal is
Introduction 9

slowly coalescing into concerted efforts on language documentation and

maintenance. While some would see such efforts as Haida cultural renewal,
it is by far more than cultural renewal, it is cultural preservation (Boeschler
1989; Meek 2010). Romaine explains,

The preservation of a language in its fullest sense ultimately entails the

maintenance of the group who speaks it, and therefore the arguments in favor of
doing something to reverse language death are ultimately about preserving cultures
and habitats. (2002:138)

Thus, culture and language both emerge when either is the focus of renewal.
This book books has two sections, the first addressing Haida
culture and the second addressing issues with the Haida language. While
the two sections seem to be neatly divided, it is very difficult to separate
the two sections without any overlap or repetition. Thus, the division is
essentially format and not necessarily absolute since much of the Haida
culture, as with any and all cultures, finds expression in its language. Years
of research and relationships both contribute to the culmination of
knowledge and experiences captured in this book, and especially time with
Haida elders and the Haida Language Instructors in the elementary schools
Massett and Skidegate. My brother Peter White and his wife Vivian—who
graciously open their home to me whenever I am in Massett—have also
taught me invaluable knowledge about Haida history and culture.
The introduction serves to set up the book and explain its
organization. All too often, the indigenous populations endure a long
season of imposed identities, identities that the newcomers have labeled
them with and which the whole world accepts and proliferates. Daniel
Francis traces such imposed identities in his book, The Imaginary Indian:
The Image of the Indian in Canadian Culture (1992), and how those
assumed identities become the very basis for interacting with indigenous,
no matter how stereotypical. It is in this current positive cycle that
indigenous communities are voicing their own perceptions and identities
that can challenge the stereotypes cast upon them since the early days
of colonization (Boeschler 1989). While it is difficult to sway globally
accepted images imposed on indigenous peoples—especially of Native
Americans—at least now there is the opportunity to speak and have
their own voice (Armitage 1995:97; Daly 2005:283). This first chapter is
my opportunity to write as a voice from within the Haida Nation.
The second chapter introduces the Haida, some mythology, and their land.
It is very difficult for most indigenous people to divorce themselves from
their land, and even newcomers to the land can form a fast bond that is greater
10 Introduction

than any idea of patriotism because the land becomes an integral part of their
soul and being. The islands of Haida Gwaii have been home to the Haida for
nine millennia according to Johnston (1987) and there is tremendous affinity
to the islands visible in each citizen of the Haida Nation. You can hear this
pride in being Haida in David Hall’s interview of the president of the
Council of the Haida Nation (CHN). Hall asks the speaker to introduce
himself, and the president of CHN answers not with a simple name, but with
a reply of name in the context of the islands from whence comes his identity:

I’m Guujaaw of the Haida Nation. These islands are in the North Pacific just south of
Alaska, and have provided for tens of thousands of people for tens of thousands of
years, and continue to provide for our people. As far as sustainability there, you have
the indigenous way of sustaining oneself: living with the land, just doing what one
would think is the natural way to live. I don’t consider it as the ancient way to live,
just the natural way. The land provides and you look after the land and make sure you
don’t abuse those gifts. (Guujaaw & Hall 2007:1)

While the second chapter is brief, it prepares the reader to engage in the
content of the rest of the book. It offers a quick overview of the most
important issues Haidas confront as well as how their worldview informs
their dealings with each other and with mainstream Canada.
Ever since Christopher Columbus’ first journey to North America,
Europeans have been very interested in their preeminence in visiting,
exploring, and claiming the ‘new’ land they encountered for their home
countries (see Cutler 1994:5; Daly 2005:297; Nettle & Romaine 2000:115).
Though this concept of claiming the land for the king or queen seems out
of place today, and even outrageous, much of the history reveals that
first encounters established formulaic rituals to proclaim the land as property
for the explorer’s sovereign nation. While the ritual is historically and
presently problematic, it does not seem possible redress the proclamation
or recant the explorers’ avarice for land and riches. The third chapter
addresses the claim that New Spain was the first European country to
explore the Pacific Northwest. The close attention to the captain and his
officers’ accounts allow a rethinking of which European nation was first.
This third chapter was of particular importance to me when I found
Juan Perez’s diary because I was hoping to find the first recorded Haida
words among his daily entries, but there were none. The research for this
chapter eventually served as a language requirement for my doctoral
studies at University of California, Los Angeles, and though I did not include
most of the Spanish text, I have some passages included here and unless
otherwise noted, the translation is mine. Perez’s account provides the first
Spanish record of contact with the Haida, and his observations serve to
Introduction 11

challenge the notion that Spain was the first European country to venture
into Haida territory.
For the fourth chapter, it is fitting that a chapter Haida humor finds its
way into this book. There are societal rules that govern most communities as
to what is funny, such as where the aesthetic boundaries are that maintain
what is funny, and even the contexts that compel humor. This chapter
explores Haida humor from personal experience. While this chapter does
not prescribe Haida humor, it does offer insight into situations that may
seemingly be contradictory since often times, what is truly funny for a Haida
person is not for a mainstream person, but what should be a very serious
situation for a mainstream person can be occasion for uncontrolled laughter
for a Haida person. With this chapter, I am simply addressing some
characteristics about Haida humor that I have encountered, what I find
funny, and what is funny to other Haidas. This chapter will also explore
some of the Haida expression of life being better because of laughter.
The rich mythology of the Haida centers on the Raven Cycle and the
fifth chapter addresses the prominent myth of raven stealing the light. This
chapter explores in greater detail how Yehl’s appetite is the impetus for
stealing the light by comparing two Haida versions of this narrative, one
well-known and the other a lesser-known account. Given the trickster
characteristic for self-aggrandizement, this delightfully insightful Haida
version spins the narrative with a very different conclusion. The Raven as
trickster is often misunderstood by mainstream American and European
audiences, and this chapter answers some of issues most misunderstood.
While the there are some very strong allusions of creator associated with
Raven, as is the case with many a trickster, often the creative aspect of
Raven is incidental and even accidental rather than intentional. In
addition, it is quite often that the very details that lead up to any creative
aspect Raven engages in belie some form of appetite fulfillment.
Section 2 begins with chapter six and is a brief introduction to the Haida
language. While much of the research on Haida has been detailed and
insightful linguistic analyses, the audience for the academic labor has not
been the Haida community. This chapter is a simple overview of the Haida
language and some of its phonological, morphological, and grammatical
intricacies. It is a sober look at the current state of the language and its
future. This chapter serves as a basis to compare the different aspects of the
current state of Haida language among the three Haida communities at the
end of this book. While efforts at revitalizing occur, most of the labors
seem focused on learning Haida as a second language.
12 Introduction

The seventh chapter is an attempt to contextualize the research in

language revitalization in North America beyond the current second
language acquisition (SLA) theories. While much of the research is SLA is
very insightful and important, it is not a useful paradigm for indigenous
languages. To establish my point, I examine two communities learning
English, the Haida and Arizona Tewa, and apply a well-known second
language theory to each community. The result reveals the necessity to
rethink any such related research among North American tribal
communities since situations among these Nations are beyond the scope of
SLA theories.
As issues with Haida and other indigenous languages have been
mentioned in previous chapters, chapter eight explores strategies that
Haida immersion camp participants employed in learning Haida. The
chapter also reveals linguistic ideology of the Haida elders in regards to
politeness, pronunciation, and even language learning; it is an examination
of how Haida define and inform their views about language culturally.
This is an important chapter that addresses identity and power, and as
Makihara and Schieffelin explain, “language is transformed by and
transforms changing social realities” (2007:5). Given that the context is a
Haida immersion camp, the issue of power and language in a Haida
language master /apprentice dyad reveals very interesting dialogue that
explores not only power and language, but identity as well. It is also apropos
that, in regards to Haida, cultural renewal is closely tied to language.
An elaboration of an old Haida song that John Swanton gathered in his
research at the turn of the 20th century is the subject of the ninth
chapter. This essay explores issues encountered in identifying, classifying,
and interpreting the song. While the audience for the original research was
not the Haida community, the recontextualization of the song addresses
nuances of the song missing from Swanton’s effort. Swanton set a very
high standard to follow with his research on the Haida language and culture,
and by revisiting the song, I focus on cultural references that are embedded in
the language.
Chapter ten is an essay that looks at how Haida cultural ideologies
fare when expressed in English. While the use of the Haida language
has greatly diminished, William Leap (1993) suggested that much of the
characteristic of language use in Native American languages often finds
expression English. So, if a given community has shifted to English from
their ancestral language, some of the discourse features will continue in
English, though not all. This chapter addresses the limitations of such
Introduction 13

expressions by comparing differences between the narrative impact of Haida

and English.
The final chapter addresses issues of technology and language
revitalization. With issues related to defining language loss, language
endangerment, and language death, the focus on technology helps to situate the
current efforts in light of documentation and language learning. The Haida
community is threefold, Massett, Skidegate and Kaigani, each with distinct
dialects, and each with specific efforts to reintroduce Haida language to daily
use. The technological advances serve to capture, utilize, and distribute the
language to a greater audience, and especially the younger audience that likes
to use the technology innovatively, especially with indigenous languages.
To anyone who is familiar with the Haida, this book has one conspicuous
omission regarding Haida culture and that concerns art. Starting with Charles
Edenshaw who began in the early 1880’s, to Bill Reid, Robert Davidson
and his brother Reggie Davidson, Guujaaw, and Dorothy Grant (just to
mention a few) who are currently producing all kinds of art, the
repertoire of Haida art is vast and world renown. Though I do address
certain artists for their impact on humor or orature, I do not have a
chapter solely dedicated to the impact of Haida art. Haida art covers
traditional silkscreen or print, sculpture of argillite, wood, silver, and gold,
carving of canoes and totem poles, and even fashion, as well as other
areas not mentioned. I need another book to discuss Haida contributions
to art, but suffice to say, I do address much of the content of their art, which
is the vast orature of Haida Gwaii.
Finally, with this book I have one main goal: to inspire an appreciation
of Haida language, culture and history. As the third possible definition for
margin allows (on page 2), I stand commenting from the margin to the
mainstream about my own culture and its language. Certainly my treatment
and topics about the Haida are not exhaustive, yet I am pleased to have this
is a rare opportunity as indigenous person to offer such a book about my
own culture. Perhaps these are my feathers on water for you.
Part I
Chapter 2

Haida Mythology

The Haidas live on Haida Gwaii—-which literally means “the islands of the
Haidas”—a northwesterly Canadian archipelago of over one hundred islands
in the Pacific Ocean. Haida history dates back to “mythtime” preserved in
the oral tradition of creation stories, songs, ceremonies, history, and
mythology of the tribe. The curator of the National Museum of Canada
suggests that the Haida presence on Haida Gwaii spans nine thousand years.
However, the last four hundred years have seen an exodus of some
Haidas into Alaska. Only recently have the islands secured the traditional
name, Haida Gwaii, for their homeland, though most maps still designate
these islands as the Queen Charlotte Islands.
The location of these islands significantly influences Haida culture and
identity. The splendor of the oceans and diversity of geography exert a
strong bind that is difficult for Haidas to separate from their essence. The
vast forests are some of the most spectacular in Canada—and even the rest
of the world—with trees more than two thousand years old. Logging
currently endangers these forests, and the Haida are committed to halting
the full-scale destruction of the forests. These trees have contributed to Haida
skill in architecture, woodcarving (particularly their great totem poles), and
canoe design. The pervasive unique flora and fauna on these islands also
earned them the nickname the Canadian Galapagos. The climate is rather
mild with winter temperatures dipping into the mid 30s (F.) and summers
averaging 68 degrees. The ocean provides wealth in many ways: an
abundance of food including salmon, herring, shrimp, crab, halibut, and
kelp; clothing and blankets from seals, sea otters, and sea lions; tools
from the bones of mammals; and mythology. While much of the
Western tradition sees blessings descending from the heavens, the Haida
see the blessings ascending from the ocean. Since the mainland is
approximately eighty miles to the east, Haida Gwaii remained largely
unaffected by the tribal interaction common to mainland coastal
communities. The distance also served as protection, since few other tribes
dared to attack the Haida homeland when occasional conflicts occurred.
18 Part I. Haida Culture and History

Historically, the Haidas had two dwellings, one inland for the winter
months and another near the shores used from late spring till late fall. The
late spring, summer, and early fall seasons were full of activity, mainly
centered on securing sustenance for the winter and materials for making
clothes, blankets, baskets, and hats. Salmon, caught and dried during the
fall and summer, served as the staple during the winter months. In the
summer, daylight lasts from 4:00 a.m. until just after 11:00 p.m. In contrast,
winter days have less than eight hours of daylight. Thus, the seasonal cycle
determined that the most outdoor activity would occur when the weather was
best. When the winter winds began to blow, the winter cycle of retreat
inland with all the gathered supplies and food began.
Winter weather usually hindered long-term food and material
gathering—such as berries to dry and spruce roots for weaving—as well as
hunting and fishing, though this was occasionally necessary.
Largely matrilocal and exogamous, the Haida typically married
outside of their clans. Haida society consists of two moieties, Ravens and
Eagles. If a Haida man from the Eagle clan wanted to marry, his choices
were limited to women from the Raven clan. When a couple did marry,
they usually lived in the same village as the wife’s mother, sometimes in
the same house. Houses were especially large wooden structures with an
entrance in front surrounded by the totems of the family. These houses
are important since families within each clan identify and refer to
themselves with regard to a house. Their family name is also traced back
to a single house. Matrilineal kinship determined which families lived in
the same house. A fireplace, usually in the middle of the house, heated the
structure and served as the cooking place. Over the fireplace was what
the Haida call ginaa, the smoke hole in the roof which provided the
necessary ventilation. This smoke hole played an important role in practical
daily living and had a particular role in one very important story.
Like many other cultures in North America and the rest of the world,
the Haida are an oral society. One common feature of oral societies
concerns their creation mythology. The Haida have many different stories
that account for their presence in the world today along with their islands
and the rest of the cosmos. With the Haida, the creator Yehl, a white
raven, is a trickster character. Raven’s transformation from white to black is
a theme common in stories among Native Americans in Alaska and First
Nations communities in Canada. A Haida version not only reveals how the
sun, moon, and stars came to be, but also how and why Yehl created them.
The following account comes from Henry Geddes, a Haida elder, and tells
Haida Mythology 19

how eulachons, a small fish in the Northwest Canadian waters that is

prized for its oil, serves as the impetus for Yehl:

It was always dark. There was no daylight. Raven could see some boys
getting lots of eulachons, and he wanted some.
“Hey,” he said, “how about some eulachons?”
“Go on, go away! You’re always telling lies. You better go away.”
So then Raven found out where they kept the light—big and round. The
wealthy ones had it. They had a big huge house, and they had a daughter. So
Raven figured the only way he could get in there was to be born. So that’s how he
did it, the young girl had a baby, and it was Raven. And he grew rapidly. And as he
got a little bigger he used to roll the light around. He used to play with it.
Then he would sit and cry, yell and cry, “Ginaa. Ginaa Ginaa.” Ginaa
means—you know those big Indian houses built long and in the middle they had
something come up? That’s where the smoke came out—they call that Ginaa.
So Raven, it was all closed in, and he cried all the time and he’d say “Ginaa”
all the time. So his mother said, “He wants that hole a little wider.”
He kept on crying and crying. One day he started practicing flying with the
light under his wing. He kept on practicing until finally he knew he could get out.
So he flew out. So he went back up the river and he tell them people, he
hollered at them, he said “Now if you people give me eulachons, I’ll give you day
“Go on, go away! You’re always lying!”
“No,” he says,” it’s true. No.” So he says, “I’m going to show you—I’m
going to give you just a little bit of daylight.” And he showed a little bit, and the
whole place was light. And he put it away, and it was dark again.
So everybody brought in—oh—loads after loads of eulachons. He couldn’t
ever eat all that up. So he flew down to where there were some rocks, sharp ones.
So he gets this big disk, and he starts hammering away at it. And he broke it in
half. And he breaks it in half, and he said, “Well,”—he throws it, and he said,
“This will be the sun. And this one,” when he threw it, he said, “this one will be
the moon.”
So after he gathered up all the crumbs, he threw that up there, and he said,
“[These] will be the stars.”

Thus, we have here the beginning of light. What this account

reveals is that hunger drives Yehl to steal the light in exchange for the
eulachons he craves so much. Missing from this account is how Yehl turns
black because of squeezing out of the smoke hole and rubbing himself in
the soot as he tries to escape. What is also evident in this story is the
nature of Yehl. The boys refer to him as a constant liar. In fact, they do not
want to have anything to do with Yehl. But he proves them wrong as he
bargains for the eulachons with the promise of letting them see the light.
The end of the story reveals Yehl receiving so many eulachons that he
could not ever eat them all, but he would try. As Geddes concludes the
20 Part I. Haida Culture and History

story, he mentions that this is merely a part of the Raven cycle of stories
that could easily last a week if all the stories were told.
The cyclical nature of the stories such as this one also affords
important insight into the Haida worldview, since they believed in human
reincarnation. Haidas held that every new baby born into the community
was someone in the family who had recently died. Thus, often whenever
people would make the comment, “Gee, she looks just like her auntie!” or
“Gee, he sure looks like his uncle!,” it was usually a reference to the idea
that the child was a reincarnation of that person. As in Geddes’ account of
how light came to this world, the birth of a baby is part of the cycle of
This portion of the Raven cycle reveals two typical aspects of Haida
oratory as well. The first aspect concerns the purpose of the oral
literature, which is to provide knowledge of history from the Haida
worldview. The advent of light to the world is one of the most important
aspects of all creation accounts. The Haida version addresses both how and
why the light began since we learn Yehl longed for the eulachons and
then devised a scheme to obtain what he wanted. Implicit in sharing this
knowledge is the warning not to be like Yehl. While never stated explicitly,
such stories are often used to socialize Haida children into correct behavior.
The second aspect is a very misunderstood one and concerns the
supernatural dimension of Yehl’s creative nature. When early accounts
first appeared in English, the misunderstanding concerned the clash of
Western and Haida creation accounts. The Western tradition ascribes
creation to God or a number of different gods but with a much different
perspective on the nature of deity. The Western worldview reveres and
worships the creator or creators for their ability and power, but the
Haida did neither. This is most evident in the boys calling Yehl a liar
whenever he speaks to them. However, when mainstream North Americans
encountered stories of Yehl, they assumed that since Yehl was the creator, he
must be the Haida’s god. Thus with this false assumption which still exists,
they concluded that Haidas worship a raven god.
This oral literature also reveals Haida social structure. The boys’
willingness to give their eulachons for the light represents not only a
sacrifice on their part, but also an opportunity. They would enjoy elevated
status in the society for achieving or obtaining visible wealth—in this
case, light. Social standing was and remains very important in Haida
culture. The abundance of the natural resources in, on, and around Haida
Gwaii enabled Haidas to pursue not mere subsistence living but wealth and
prestige as well. But the most interesting aspect of wealth in the Haida
Haida Mythology 21

society was not how much one could personally accumulate and show off,
but how much one could give away. The potlatch, a ceremony common
among Alaskan Natives and First Nations communities, became the
standard for measuring the wealth of a person or family. Potlatches were held
for different reasons, including becoming a chief, moving into a new home,
honoring another person, or raising a personal or village totem pole.
Within each community, individuals could host their own potlatch, or the
community could combine efforts to host a large one and invite other
communities and even other tribes to attend.
Largely misunderstood by the Canadian government, potlatches were
banned from the mid-1880s until 1954. Outsiders misconstrued the cultural
significance of the event, the giving of presents to the potlatch guests. To
give away as much as possible was essential to the gathering. The
measure of wealth was not how much the potlatch host had at the end of
the event, but how much he had given away to his guests during the
potlatch. Blankets, pelts, copper, argillite (a black stone indigenous to
Haida Gwaii), baskets, hats, carved paddles, spoons, bowls, boxes, and
walking sticks were among the early gifts, with silver and gold later
becoming prominent gifts as well. Many of the gifts were often made by
the host or the host’s family and then presented to the guests. A family
could spend a year carving argillite and wooden gifts, making blankets,
and weaving hats and baskets just to have enough to give away at a
potlatch. Haida carvings were unmatched for skill and design, and their
weaving skills could produce baskets that were watertight.
The reciprocal function of the potlatch was very important. Potlatches
were celebrations of songs, stories, dancing, feasting, and gifts often
lasting more than three days. The food would include all sorts of salmon,
smoked and fresh, halibut, cod, shrimp, crab, seaweed, and eulachon grease.
The food was also part of the measure of wealth, and it was important to
have all the best staples to offer guests. The event would culminate in the
host achieving a higher status in the village because of having held the
For the Haida, dancing and singing are two of the greatest expressions
of cultural identity. Events like a potlatch serve as a perfect venue for
elaborate presentations of stories with songs and dances. The singers, using
only a drum made from an animal skin, would sing songs from their history,
family, and community to entertain guests or as part of the winter cycle
of stories, songs, and dances. Often the dances were elaborate
recreations of the myths accompanying the songs. Dancers wore ornate
masks and costumes as they performed particular dances. Raven, killer
22 Part I. Haida Culture and History

whale, wolf, bear, and eagle masks were common, as was that of Gaghit
(or Gagid), the crazy half-man, half-beast. One of the most popular topics
for the celebrations was Yehl.
While many the potlatch activities are currently extant, potlatches are a
rare event now. The increased visibility of Haida culture has led to new
developments in artistry, especially silkscreen prints and paintings. Carving
silver and gold bracelets, earrings, and necklaces has also become
prominent. Carving totem poles, masks, paddles, and canoes (though this
has only recently been revived) has always been relatively popular. Dancing
and singing are currently not as actively pursued as carving or painting, but
there are some youngsters learning the dances and songs. While they do
learn the songs in Haida, the young singers most likely do not understand
what they are singing since Haida is not their first language and they have
had little experience in speaking it. Thus, though able to sing the songs,
they may not have enough proficiency to analyze the specific features of
the songs except to talk generally about what the songs mean. This is
common among many First Nation communities and Native tribes that
have assimilated English as their first language. Despite integration into
mainstream society, the Haida still maintain their connection to Haida
Gwaii as part of their identity and pursue the arts to express that bond to the
Interest in Haida folklore, other than from the Haida themselves, has
occurred only in the last 125 years, with the most interest occurring in
the last twenty-five years. Finding a single source that addresses Haida
culture and folklore is not possible, but from these selected references, an
adequate overview is possible. The first two references offer cultural
background. Blackman (1982) offers cultural information from a Haida
woman’s perspective. Her book is important since so much of the early
information that ethnologists and linguists gathered was largely from
male sources. Swanton (1909) reveals the typical androcentric approach to
While the study of Haida folklore has only been popular since the last
quarter of the twentieth century, much of the literature has its basis in
linguistics. The study of the Haida language has motivated and resulted
in much of the folkloric research. Two examples are Bringhurst (2002)
Enrico (1995). Both authors offer contemporary translations of stories
gathered by John Swanton and his work with the Haida language at the end
of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. Since
there are so few native speakers of Haida alive, the opportunity to
research the language and oral traditions with live consultants is slowly
Haida Mythology 23

ending. Soon any future research concerning both the language and
folklore will have to rely on consulting books or other data and not living
Chapter 3

Was New Spain

Really First?: Rereading
Juan Pérez’s 1774
of Ha’ada Gwaii


As the 18th century drifted into its last quarter, New Spain targeted the
Pacific Northwest coast of Canada and Alaska for exploration and
possible colonization (Carrassco 1971:13; Shaw1988: 25; Y Barra y Berge
1945:23). The Pacific Northwest and Alaska was also being explored by
the Russians and the English, and thus, establishing preeminence through
pioneer exploration was of utmost importance to Spain.
In 1774, Juan Pérez piloted the frigate Santiago from Monterrey on a
six month commissioned expedition to explore and claim the northern
most coastline to the 60th parallel for Spain. He ultimately only made it to
the 55th parallel, to the Queen Charlotte Islands (Beals 1989:79; Pérez
1774). His arrival to these islands supposedly marked the first time the
Haidas, the original inhabitants of the islands, encountered Europeans
(Castellanos 1983:27; Nuffield 1990:62). In accordance with the mandates
of his commission, Pérez duly noted the details of geography, and most
important to this paper, he described the two encounters with the Haida.
The particular mandate concerning “Yindios”, or Indians, included
recording as much information as possible about the people the Santiago
would encounter, and since the Haida were the first people encountered, not
only did Pérez record the events, but four other officers recorded the
meetings as well. The descriptions of the Haida prove very useful in
refuting the claim that Pérez and his crew were the first Europeans to visit
26 Part I. Haida Culture and History

Haida Gwaii, the name the Haida call the Queen Charlotte Islands. In this
paper I will discuss Pérez’s diary as he encounters the Haida along Haida
Gwaii and provide evidence of details and discrepancy in the claim of
Spanish preeminence in the northwest coast. I will argue, based on the
two days of encounters with the Haida and Pérez’s subsequent
descriptions of them, that the Spanish were not the first Europeans that
visited the archipelago, known as “homeland” to the Haida (Gladstone &
Borserio 1993:6; Johnson 1987:102; Stearns 1981:4). I also consult the
other officers’ accounts to further establish my position.

Historical Background

Briefly, northern expeditions along of the coasts of Oregon, Washington,

British Columbia, and Alaska before Pérez were not well documented.
Early second hand accounts suggest Spanish presence in the 1590s near
Vancouver and possibly the origin of the name of Juan de Fuca Strait.
English explorer Francis Drake has purported to have visited as far north
as Vancouver, as well as another English voyager Thomas Cavendesh, but
records are only second hand and ambiguous (See Hilton 1992:22; Nuffield
1990:32). Russia (Fisher 1977:2; Makarova 1975:4; Nuffield 1990:60) and
Britain (Pilar de San Pío 1992:85) had accounts of venturing along these
coasts but their lack of documentation allowed Pérez to privilege the
Spanish right for surveying and claiming the Northwest coast. The
colonial mindset is evident in the blatant disregard for established
inhabitants whose history extends back multiple millennia and whose
presence was merely part and parcel of the act of possession. Various
European countries sustained this trend of claiming land culminating in
indigenous dispossession until the middle of the twentieth century.
Four other officers kept accounts as well: Pilot Francisco Antonio
Mourelle, Esteban José Martínez, the second officer, and the chaplains
Friar Tomás de la Peña and Friar Juan Crespi. Though all these officers
kept journals, they may have acceded to Pérez’s notes at times for some of
their details (Beals 1989:4). Because of the diaries and letters to the Viceroy
Bucareli, it is from this date that the coast from Mexico to Alaska becomes
“California” in subsequent Spanish writings (Carrasco 1988:136; Quijano
The commissioned voyage originated on January 24 in San Blas,
Mexico. Both the previous viceroy as well as Viceroy Bucareli (de
Croix 1960:126) had interest in expediting exploration of the north coast
Was New Spain Really First? 27

(Iterbide 1986:81; Quijano 1967:385) and Bucareli charged Pérez to

explore and formally claim any lands suitable for Spanish possession.
Bucareli explicitly instructed,

el alférez de fragata graduado D. Juan Pérez, primer piloto de los de número de el

Departamento de San Blas, a cuyo cuidado he puesto la expedición de los
Descubrimientos siguiendo la costa de Monterrey a el Norte...(Bucareli, qtd in Pilar
de San Pio 1992:123)

the ensign of the frigate grade Don Juan Pérez, first pilot of the number of the
Department of San Blas, whom is charged in this expedition to posses land
discovered continuing from the coast of Monterrey and northward.

These extremely detailed instructions included a total of 32 articles,

Iterbide (1986:5), Villegas (1987:13), and de Solano (1991:117) provide
insight to the tradition of “instructions” handed down from the King of
Spain to each successor in order to adhere to the functions of the office. The
instructions empowered the virreys to provide their own instructions to
anyone commissioned for work. This first article is perhaps the most
interesting because it reveals a disguised sense of concern for the condition
of the souls of the Coastal inhabitants. Bucareli’s expresses the sentiment,

...se derrame en ellos la luz del Evangelio con la Conquista Espritiual, que les
separe de las tinieblas de la Ydolatía en que viven, y les enseñe el camino de la
Salvación eterena. Que son las verdaderas intenciones que en tales empresas
animan al piadoso Real corazón de S.M. (Bucareli, in Ybarra y Berge 1945:31).

...to spread among them the light of the Gospel (good news) by the spiritual conquest,
which separates them from the darkness of idolatry in their lives, and to teach them
the way of eternal salvation. These are the true motives of your pious merciful
heart that move His Majesty to undertake the fallen souls. (Servin 1961:239)

Bucareli references the King’s merciful heart as the impetus to begin

exploration and claiming possession of the coast in order to provide the
light of the gospel to the Coastal inhabitants. To meet this imperative, the
two priests, Friar Juan Crespi and Friar Tomás de la Peña, accompanied
Pérez as missionaries on the voyage. Their activities included being part of
the captain’s required daily reading of the daily events as well as keeping
their own records as per Bucareli’s orders.
A blaring contradiction to the “light of the Gospel” is evident in that
Bucareli’s own intentions for expansion. He mentions the spiritual
enlightenment of the Indians as he claims their land for the King of Spain,
but in his directives he explicitly orders Pérez to avoid any foreign contact,
28 Part I. Haida Culture and History

and if it is not avoidable, to only state the intention and purpose of the
ship as being to sail to Monterrey (Servin 1961:240–1). If pressed further,
Pérez must state that the reason he is further north is because the weather
has taken him off course. The result is that the decreed deception occults
light of the Gospel and only manifests that far from a spiritual
motivation, the expeditions are a result of a lesser human quality, that of
Bucareli’s detailed articles reflect his concern that other nations’ may
have already had expeditions to the area (Carrasco 1971:18; Hilton
1981:41). With that in mind, he commissioned Pérez,

From the very moment the he [Pérez] sets sail from San Blas, he will keep an
exact logbook of all the navigational details, noting the winds, courses, shoals,
landmarks, etc., and determining the position of the sun whenever possible. Thus,
nothing should be missing from the logbook that may be instructive or may furnish
information and data for the voyage. Every day that he is able to do so, he will
read the daily entry which is written to the ranking officers of the packet boat; and at
the end of what has been read, a certified statement should be made, attesting to the
truth of the events entered. If anyone should make any observations, he is to make
note of it and have it signed by everyone, so that the account of the events may be
more authentically attested to. (Servin 1961:242)

The last line provides salient insight to the underlying purpose of the
voyage, mainly that Spanish presence and rights to the newly
“discovered” lands would be “authentically” established by the records
kept by Pérez and his crew. It is with this commission that Pérez set sail
and copiously notes the daily events throughout the journey.
Bucareli also had very specific details for Pérez to follow concerning
any contact with foreign settlements (Beals 1981:26). Bucareli’s own words
warrant investigation as he commands, “If any foreign settlements should be
discovered, he will sail farther north before disembarking and beginning
the ceremony of possession taking...” (Servin 1961:240). Bucareli
summarizes the matter as he writes:

Anque las ornes. de la Corte mandaban expresamente que se desalojasen de grado o

por fuerza qualesquier extranjeros que se hallasen establec dos en estos parajes,
el Virrey previene en su instrucción un partido más prudente y fué que en el caso
de encontrar algún establecimiento su subiese más al N. y se tomara
posesión del todo en Latd. más Seten. a fin de poder alegar este derecho cuando
conviniese. (Ybarra y Berge 1945:31)

Notwithstanding, the court expressly orders to dispossess willingly or by

necessity any foreign establishment found in those two places. The Viceroy
prepared in his instruction a very prudent agreement and in case of encountering
Was New Spain Really First? 29

some establishment, to go farther north and entirely take possession of the latitude
farther north in order to secure that right [of possession] when convenient.

Should Pérez have come into contact with any foreign settlements, he was
then to proceed north according to the prescribed manner that Bucareli
suggested and claim possession of the land. The ceremony would establish
the Spanish rights to possession and preclude any other European possession
of the area. The act of claiming possession would then secure the land, its
resources, and the inhabitants as subject to the rule of the King of Spain
(Pilar de San Pío 1990:126). Any dispute that would have then occurred
would surely have favored Spain according to the right of Pérez’s
documented voyage (Nuffield 1990:21).
Pérez had to be very careful when he came upon any Indian tribes along
the coast. Bucareli’s charge was very inclusive of details of what to do
when he contacted any Indians. He was to give them prearranged gifts,
treat them “affectionately”, and record their customs characteristics,
religion, political organization and any other aspects he deemed
important to note. It was important to maintain a friendly demeanor in
order to ensure later peaceful returns to the area (Servin 1961:242). As will
be revealed later, this charge was not followed as completely as it could have
been with the Haida.
The first port the Santiago harbored at was San Diego and Pérez
harbored there from March 11th to April 6th. Departing from San Diego
on April 6th, the Santiago arrived in the designated port of Monterey on
May 7th, and harbored there until June 11th. Upon departure from
Monterrey, Pérez then begins his new diary,

Continuacion del Diario que formó el Al Férez graduado de Fragata Don Juan
Pérez, Primer Piloto del Departamento de Sn. Blas, con la titulada Santiago, alias
La Nueve Galicia de su mando, que comprehende su salida de Monterrey á explorar
la Costa Septentrional, y su regreso á este propio Puerte en 26 de Agosto de este
año de 1774. (Juan Pérez 1774)

Continuation of the diary kept by acting ensign, frigate grade, Don Juan Pérez, first
pilot of the Department of San Blas, with the so-called Santiago, also known as
the New Galacia, under his command, which covers his departure from
Monterrey to explore the North coast, and his return to this original port on August
26, in this year 1774.

The entry provides insight to the nature of the voyage and reveals Pérez’s
adherence to Bucareli’s charge to keep copious accounts of the journey. The
fact that Bucareli charged Pérez to keep strict accounts is immediately
evident in the first clause as Pérez conformed to keeping a diary of the
30 Part I. Haida Culture and History

journey. Pérez’s adherence to the totality of the charge is succinctly

summarized in the fact that the diary entries includes the departure from
and return to Monterrey rather than San Blas, Mexico. Literally, everything
from the departure from Monterrey to the return to the designated port
should have been in the diary, all in accordance to Bucareli’s charge.
Though Pérez mentions Monterrey as his original port and destination of
return, he ultimately returned to San Blas on November 5 from whence he
began the voyage (Hilton 1992:159).

Departure from Monterrey

The background to the voyage of the Santiago reveals the expansion of the
Spanish colony as the ultimate motive for its departure from Monterrey,
its designated port (Hilton 1981:41; Nuffield 1990:60; Pilar de San Pío
1990:50). The need to secure the Spanish presence in the northern coastal
waters and to claim possession of the territory becomes strongly motivated
by reports and fear of encroaching exploration by the Russians and the
English. Thus, Pérez’s departure, complete with mandates and details,
begins a recent historical account of navigation to the Northwest coast.
Of the Viceroy’s orders to Pérez, according to article XXV, Pérez
had to keep accurate measurements of the voyage. Perhaps one of the
more mundane measures, though important, is the daily observed latitude
which allowed a recording of the ship’s position. The sun provided the
information of degrees and minutes of latitude determined by the sun’s noon
position (Beals 1989:139). Since the observed latitude requires good
weather, on days that it was raining or cloudy, a plot of the distance and
direction sailed determined the latitude and minutes of the Santiago. At
times Pérez implemented this procedure, known as dead reckoning, as well
as observed latitude recordings in order to keep more accurate records and
to verify the correctness of the calculations.
After the Santiago departed from Monterrey on June 11, the first day
that it was possible to do an observed latitude reading was June 18. The
recorded daily positions then continue until July 18, when they sighted
Haida Gwaii. There was a gap of the ship’s positioning from July 18–22.
For the next two days the positioning is resumed, but then there was
another recording gap of seven days. Pérez resumed the records again on
July 31 until August 5. There would be no more records of observed latitude
or dead reckoning for the rest of the expedition. Pérez and the other officers
offer no explanation for the gaps. The records reveal selective adherence to
Was New Spain Really First? 31

reckoning the ships position on a daily basis, and though the records reveal
some problems, Pérez and his officers maintained a very curious log of the
ship’s position. The problem of accuracy of some of the readings results in
the need to correct Pérez’s daily-recorded latitudes, but which Beals
(1989:141–144) addresses in detail.
Interestingly, and for unknown reasons, Pérez was selective in which
articles of instruction he followed and even the ones he did follow, he
seemingly followed to his own pleasure or discretion as I will discuss further
in the next section.

Describing the Haida

The First Encounter

After thirty-four days of voyaging west-northwest, the Santiago’s fresh
water supply began to dwindle. For a couple of days the course changed
directly north. On July 15th Pérez called a meeting with the pilot and the
ship’s officers to discuss the water supply problem. The next day, in light
of the water supply problem, he ordered the course to northeast in order “fall
in with the coast.” As the Santiago approached the coast, poor weather
limited his observation of the horizons. On the 17th, Pérez noted signs of
land in the water and mentioned the Chinese name for the kelp, “porras”,
that he saw, noting that this kind of growth happens approximately 80–100
leagues from the coast (Beals 1989:74; Cutter 1969:153). The next day, the
Santiago sailed into view of Haida Gwaii and Pérez calmly recorded “At
11 we saw the coast, nothing more new.” A very small note,
considering it had been 38 days since the ship’s crew had seen land. On the
Tuesday, the 19th, the Santiago sailed within three leagues of the coast, but
the weather, overcast and foggy, suffered Pérez to order and maintain a
distance of ten leagues from shore.
It was Wednesday, July 20, when Pérez mentioned sight of a smoke and
later on in the afternoon, the first contact with the Haida. Pérez’s account
of these two days, filled with descriptions of the land and the people he
encountered, were lengthy. Concerning the first day’s encounter he wrote:

Day 19 to Wednesday 20 of July 1774

We proceeded with four jib sails and the main top staysail with one reefing,
turning to a course ENE the wind fresh out of the SE endeavoring to a point
surrounded by the sea. It jutted out from an extended hill, was about 3 leagues
32 Part I. Haida Culture and History

of length, appeared divided from the coast and appeared like an island. I gave it
the name Santa Margarita. From the so-called hill and coast came much smoke.
At 3:00 in the afternoon we descried 3 canoes coming towards us. At 4:30 they
arrived along side. In the interim, we took the occasion to experiment, test the
quality of the people and things. First, the men were of good stature of body, well
formed and smiling expressions, beautiful eyes, and good looking; the hair tied,
and compared to fashion of a wig with a tail. Some wore it tied in the back and had
beards and mustaches in the fashion of the Chinese people. The first action
they did when they approached within a gunshot of the ship was to begin to
sing their motet in unison and cast feathers in the water, as the Indians do at
the Santa Barbara Channel, but these use a particular signal that is not used by the
others of the Channel, nor those under our rule. Their arms were open making a
cross, and put their arms on the other’s bosom in the same manner, an
appropriate sign of their peacefulness. From what has been experienced with them,
they are very enlivened to trade and to sell according to the acuity of their
dealings with us, because before they would give any trifles, they had to hold
in their hands the items of their dealings, considering and satisfying their likes with
a look, and if pleased, to ask for more, making it understood that if we did not
give more, they would not pay. Noticing this, one could believe that they have
had frequent commerce amongst them. The canoes are very well made. They are
of one piece, but for a farca on the gunwhale. They are very swift. The Indians
row with a polished oar or paddle one and a half varas long. All their trade is
reduced to giving pelts of animals such as sea wolf, otter, and bears. They also
have a with special white wool and I don’t know the species of animal that
produces the wool they extract. They weave beautiful blankets and I collected
four. They are not large, but are well woven and wrought. Of the three canoes I
referred to, the largest carried 9 men, and would measure 24 codos of length,
and 4 of width. The others carried 7 men; I did not note any weapons. They
invited us by signs to go ashore, and we communicated by signs that the next day
we would go there. With this they retired at 5 in the afternoon to the shore.

The length of the hill that I mentioned runs north-south, for at 6:30 in the
afternoon, it bore from me 5 leagues of distance.

At nightfall the horizons were extremely overcast; and it was raining. I

ordered to take a second reefing, and in this condition we followed on course
of SW 1/4W. At 10:00 it was calm. At 11:00 the wind raised fresh out of the
SE such that at 12:00, I ordered to furl the topsails. At dawn it was calm
somewhat, which gave opportunity to use the topsails, and to turn the course to the
shore. At 11:30 we arrived near the Point of Santa Margarita in order to anchor,
if we encountered a convenient place. And being beyond the referred to point,
we encountered a furious current, which, if we were not cautious, would have
athwarted the ship. It had so much force that even moving with the topsails and
foresail with a strong wind, we were hardly able to keep the sails stiff because of the
greater flow of the current.

And thus concludes this day. Without more novelty thanks to God.
Was New Spain Really First? 33

The first day of encountering the Haidas begins with the routine entry
“We proceeded...” and Pérez then continues to supply important details
concerning the manner of sailing, “with four jibsails and the main topsail
with one reefing.” At this point Pérez seems to adhere to Bucareli’s charge
“to keep an exact logbook” as he encounters Haida Gwaii. Perhaps one the
most important factor of the first day’s meeting with the Haida concerns
the naming of the landmarks and islands that they have described.
Pérez immediately sets out to name the point that they are slowly nearing
as “Punta de Santa Margarita,” the Point of Santa Margarita. He provides
the first recorded European name for any of the over 160 different islands in
the chain of the Haida homeland. He suggests the point appears as an island
and he is right, but he then erroneously suggests it was part of the larger
Graham Island that ultimately continues and forms a point. Due to the
weather conditions, it may have been too foggy to correctly distinguish the
fact that it was indeed an island and not just a point of the mainland.
With the newly given Spanish name, Pérez prepares to establish the rights
of Spain to the islands.
Pérez then begins to record a series of observations of and about the
Haida. The physical description of the Haida begins with the sighting of the
three canoes, most likely from Kuista-”Where-the-trail-ends-town”
(Swanton 1905:281), which ventured to meet with the Santiago and its
crew. In describing the Haida men, Pérez notes that they “were of good
stature, well formed, a smiling face, beautiful eyes and good looking.”
In noticing their hair, it reminded him of a wig, the length of which was
tied back. In a piquant observation, he saw men who had beards and
mustaches similar to the Chinese. Importantly, he does not note the eye
color (though he mentions they have beautiful eyes) or skin pigmentation
(but he does note they are good looking) though it will be an
important observation for the next day.
Pérez carefully observes Haida mannerisms and describes them as
they begin to sing as soon as they come within a musket shot of the
ship. They cast feathers on the water similar to the Santa Barbara Channel
Indians with the exception that the Haida then opened their arms and formed
a cross shaped sign with their opened hands on the chest of the person next
to them. The feathers were certainly bald eagle feathers/eagle down or
goose down, but most definitely eagle feathers/down since eagles are one
of the more prized bird feathers among the Haida (Collison 1981:90). Pérez
interprets this sign as an indication of their peacefulness. As the Haida
begin to trade, he suggests that they have had much experience with others
due the brisk manner in which the Haida dealt with the crew. As an
34 Part I. Haida Culture and History

example of their adeptness in trade, the Haida men would not exchange
anything until they had what they desired in their hands, and if they
liked what they received, they would not give in return until they were
given more. Using pelts of otters, seals, and bears, the Haida engaged in
trade. Pérez also noted they had very well made small blankets of which he
acquired four. He also noted white wool and could not discern what animal
produced it.
Pérez’s keen sailor’s eye observes the Haida canoes and comments
on their structure and how the paddles were a one and half varas long (a
varas was similar to a yard in length). He comments on the length, width
(codos was similar to a cubit in length, measured from a man’s elbow to the
tip of the middle finger, approximately 18 inches), its construction and the
fact that the Haida men were very adept at handling the canoes. He
specifically states that the canoes are swift and accounts for the number of
men in each canoe. He calmly reports seeing no weapons noted among the
Haida. Pérez continues that the Haida used signs to invite the crew ashore
and he informs them that the crew would go ashore the next day, but the
weather would prevent any further contact with this group as the Santiago
would then begin its journey south. The Haida, according to Pérez’s entry,
then withdrew back to the shore after only 30 minutes of contact.
Pérez ends the day’s observation by describing the weather, adding
specific sailing details that were necessary because of the weather. Pérez
provides a detailed comment on a powerful current that almost turned the
ship around perhaps as justification for not going ashore. The last entry of
the day can be misconstrued to suggest that nothing new happened at
all as he ends with “And thus concludes this day. Without more novelty
thanks to God,” but the context would be better understood that in light of
all that he has already recorded for that day, nothing more than what he has
written has occurred.

The Second Encounter

The Santiago is now ready to encounter the second Haida group as it
journeys south. His journal entry for that second encounter has a full
narrative of the event, including two notes after the daily entry. Due to the
length of the first note, I include only the second note in the body of this
chapter because of its pertinent information. The first note contains details
of sailing and land observations that are not critical to the scope of this
Was New Spain Really First? 35

paper. Pérez records the next day’s account with a different beginning, as he

Day 20 to Thursday 21 of July 1774

Considering that we could not win anything against the swiftness of the current we
tried to remove ourselves somewhat, and being at a moderate distance (from shore)
the wind died. Some canoes of Indians came into view, and seeing that we were
not making any headway, they drew near to us. They began negotiating trade
with our crew, but first they sang and they danced and they threw feathers in
the air. All the rest of the afternoon 21 canoes came of different sizes. In the
greatest of them came an old man appearing to be a King or Captain. It was
from 25 to 30 codos of length, and 10 codos wide. It carried 24 to 30 Indians,
and in the others some had 9, others 15, and others 7. All the people were
stocky, good-looking as well, and white skinned in their features; most of them have
blue eyes. Their hair is tied like the Spanish, and some wear a shoulder strap like
soldiers, likewise those who wear mustaches and have beards. The aforementioned
King or captain carried his tambourine and sonata but first they began dancing
and singing. Then they began to trade with otter, wolf, and bear skins which the
crew gathered a sufficient number for some old clothes. They also exchanged
some blankets, beautifully woven and fabricated, according to what I saw, on a
loom. I gathered some as well. I noticed some things of iron in the canoes, like
instruments of cutting as well as a half a bayonet, and a fragment of a sword.
Knives do not satisfy them, and by signs they want large swords or machetes in
exchange for some pelts. But at last, they settled for some knives that the people
gave. They carried some small wooden boxes for keeping things. I uttered a
thousand questions, but they did not understand me or my signs. Some of our
crew leaped in their canoes, and two them came aboard to whom gifts were
given of bread and cheese as well as some trinkets to make them content.
Meanwhile, I had hope that the weather would allow me to go ashore. Those
who went aboard the canoes were hugged and kissed as a sign of friendship. They
invited them to eat and to sleep on shore, saying they had much to eat and to

Among the 21 canoes, we saw two full of woman with some children on
their bosom, and other older children. They were all good looking, white, and
blonde, many of them wore bracelets of iron and copper and some headbands
of the same. They wear clothes of pelts tailor fit to their body. The lower lip in
the middle has a hole, and in it they put a colored shell that strikes on the nose
when they speak, but they have regular movement. Those that wore it are
apparently married, because some of the young girls were not wearing it. They are
of a good build, like the men. Finally, they furnished evidence indicating their
docility and good disposition because it was manifested in their actions. It was
afternoon and everyone was pleased, I less so because I wanted to anchor but I
could not get help from the wind. I was ill-humored and more so because the
without wind, I was separated from the coast because of the furious current flow. I
had thought about anchoring in a small cove formed by the coast sheltered from all
36 Part I. Haida Culture and History

the winds, but since the current and the winds prohibited me, I had to yield to the
will of God. The aforementioned cove is sheltered from the winds of the south,
SW, W and NW because the entrance and outlet are NE, SW.

The afternoon’s conclusion retired the canoes with a great clamor, they were
contented having trading with us, and we were unhappy to see that the current failed
us. Though I couldn’t go ashore, I had the pleasure of seeing the land closely and
will be reviewing it as described in the following.

The second day of contact with the Haida begins with Pérez’s
comment concerning the inability to accomplish anything against the current
they were in. He then notes that a number of canoes came into view from
the island known as Langara on most current maps (Pilar de San Pío 127),
but referred to as K’ áys Gwáay, North Island, by the Haidas (Cogo & Cogo
1983:35; Collison 1981:248; Swanton 1905:87). As the Haida saw the
Santiago not making any headway, they ventured to approach the ship.
There are definite similarities in the two meetings. Not only do the Haidas
sing and cast feathers on the water like the Haidas in the first encounter,
this group also dances. Pérez does not mention the seeing sign that the
first group made, but he adds that 21 canoes approached the Santiago that
afternoon. An important missing element is the exact time of when the
events took place. Pérez does mention that interaction and trading
transpired at some point in the afternoon and continued until the “close of
evening.” It cannot be clear if this “close of evening” refers to when it
began getting dark, or if it is simply an hourly tradition that after 6:00
p.m., it is considered evening. The “close of evening” is ambiguous because
there are at least three different interpretations for the phrase which would
affect the amount of trade and contact time from as little as two hours to as
many as eight. If the phrase refers to the end of the evening, i.e. when
darkness arrives, the time would be approximately 22:00 because the
sun sets very late at this latitude in the summer. This could mean the
trade and contact occurs for several hours, but if the phrase means the onset
of evening being 18:00, the time for trade is greatly reduced to just a
couple of hours.
In a similar fashion to the first encounter, Pérez describes the people in
the canoes. He notices an old man and suggests must be the king or the
captain, but spends more time describing the length, width, and capacity of
the canoe he is in. He notes the number of Haidas in the various canoes,
with special attention to the fact that the old man’s canoe carries the most
of all, 20–24. The rest, he remarks, carry 9, 7, or 15 Haidas. He then
describes the Haida men as “stocky, and good-looking as well, white in
appearance as well as in their features; most of them have blue eyes, their
Was New Spain Really First? 37

hair is tied like the Spanish, and some wear a shoulder strap like soldiers,
likewise those who wear mustaches and have beards.”
He writes of the women that they “were all good looking, white, and
blonde.” He notes some of the women having nursing infants at their
breast. He describes the labrets that adorned some of the women and notes
that though the colored shells are seemingly large and hits their nose as
they talk, it does not impede their speech. Since some of the younger
women do not have any labrets, he suggests that only the married women
adorn themselves with the devices. He also notices they wear pelts
tailored to their bodies. Pérez concludes with the physical characteristics of
the women by saying they are “They are of a good build, like the men.”
In relation to the trading, this second village had a similar methodology to
the first, using pelts of sea otters, wolves, and bears as barter. The crew
gave their old clothes in exchange for “plenty of pelts.” Apparently knives
were not to pleasing to these Haida, and though they evidently desired
swords or machetes, they settled for knives. The Haida also traded with
blankets Pérez thought were made on a loom. The final aspect of trade
revealed two Haidas that went aboard the Santiago and received gifts of
cheese, bread, and glass beads. The Haidas departed with great clamor and
the trading session ended.
Pérez mentions that some of his crew jumped into the canoes that
the Haida hugged and kissed as a sign of friendship, and then invited
ashore to eat and sleep. The Haidas somehow communicated that they had
plenty of food and drink on shore, but other than the two who jumped on
into the Haida canoes, the crew did not venture off the ship. The interaction
made everyone seemingly happy as Pérez notes that everyone was cheerful,
though he was not because he could not anchor the ship.
Pérez made keener observations of this group, even though there were
much more of them than the first encounter. He noticed the old man,
whom Pérez thought to be a king or captain, holding a tambourine and
jingling it as they sang and danced. He recorded that the women wore
iron and copper bracelets and rings. He saw some small wooden boxes
used for storage. And finally, he saw iron instruments, one that resembled a
half a bayonet and another that was piece of a sword. It would be the last
time Pérez would see the Haida, and though he would be on another
voyage the following year for the same reason, he would not make it back to
Haida Gwaii.
The conclusion of this daily entry provides details of the
geography and the weather that prevented the ship from anchoring and
the men from going ashore. He laments the fact that he could not or did
38 Part I. Haida Culture and History

not go ashore, but finds consolation in viewing and describing the coast at
close range in the first note of the day’s observation. In the day’s final
note, Pérez provided pertinent information for his actions that he would
have to account for to Bucareli. He explains:


Fue haciendo con reflexíon las inconstancias de los tiempos, y la confusion de ellos,
y tambien la incertidumbre de encontrar mas al N. paraje donde podere* fondear, y
hacer Agua, pues en el dia acortando la racion podria ápuras penas atener para
regresarme, determiné no pasar adelante, y desde esta altura seguir la costa para
Monterrey cumpliendo lo que semerranda, y vér si encuentro paraje donde poner
en practica lo que SE. me orderra esto en el caso de que los vientos, y tiempos me lo
permitan por que no es posible poder explicar quanto no ha acaecido con los malos

Dios me conceda buenos temporalos.


As I pondered the inconsistencies and confusion of the weather, as well as the

uncertainty of an encounter of a place more North where we could anchor and get
water, then on the day of cutting the ration, I hastened to stick to returning, I
determined not to pass further, and from this latitude to follow the coast back to
Monterrey accomplishing the commands to see if I encounter a place where I
could harbor, to practice that which was ordered of me by Your Excellency
supposing weather and wind permit because it is impossible to be able to explain
all that befell us with the bad weather.

God give me good weather.

In one of the longest sentences of his journal, Pérez uses the second and
final note of the daily entry to account for his actions. Since he did not make
to 60th parallel, Pérez must now provide very convincing reasons for his
actions. Since His commission not only included reaching the 60th parallel,
but claiming the land for God and Spain, he must have some very good
reasons for not landing. The first reason reflects the impact of the weather
which was very poor and caused confusion as he tried to find a suitable
location to anchor and get more water. The water supply plays a role again in
the next reason as he discusses the low water supply which, even if the
daily rations were cut, would not be enough to return to Monterrey. Pérez,
mindful of Bucareli’s orders, acknowledges that his turning back to
Monterrey included following the coast and claiming the land for Spain,
but he adds that all his actions are weather permitting. His penultimate
Was New Spain Really First? 39

comment suggests that the all that has happened to the Santiago due to the
weather is not possible to put into words and he ends the daily account with a
petition that “God grant me good weather.”
The Santiago’s second and final contact with the Haida is now over.
Though the Santiago would sail south along Haida Gwaii’s east coast for
another week, Pérez would not anchor or go ashore seemingly for
reasons of weather. On July 23 he sights a mountain chain and records
beautiful weather and calm seas, yet does not venture ashore for water or an
act of possession. An apprentice seaman dies the next day and has burial at
sea the following morning. Pérez’s final observations of Haida Gwaii
describe the poor weather and its effect on the Santiago’s safety. In a note
for the final entry concerning Haida Gwaii, July 29, Pérez corrects his
latitude, provides the length of distance traveled from the last dead
reckoning and continues his journey southward to Monterrey.

Evidence, Discussion, and Comments

As mentioned in my introduction, the common assumption is that the

Spanish were the first Europeans to encounter the Haida and Haida Gwaii.
I turn now to Pérez’s own observations to address the historical fact.
Pérez’s recorded his observations of the Haida arrival quite differently
from the Friar accounts. Pérez writes that three canoes came to meet
them, and from the context, it seems as though they were all present at the
same time. Peña writes that the canoes came one at time: one just after
spotting bonfires at 3:00, and the second at about 5:00, with whom they had
traded, and the last one at 6:00 (Cutter 1969:157,159). Crespi’s account is
similar to Peña’s (Cutter 225,227), but it may be that Crespi’s account
repeats Peña’s because Peña’s navigational experience far surpassed
Crespi’s and he merely succumbed to copying Peña’s entries (see Cutter
On the first day of contact, Pérez notes that the Haidas willing
approach the Santiago and Beals (1989:241) suggests that they are from
a village on K’áys Gwaay, North Island. Crespi’s account is similar to
Peña’s (Cutter 225,227), but it may be that Crespi’s account repeats Peña’s
because Peña’s navigational experience far surpassed Crespi’s and he merely
succumbed to copying Peña’s entries (see Cutter 1969:XIV). Pérez observes
their approach and notices that the Haida cast feathers on the water as they
close in nearer to the ship, similar to the Santa Barbara Channel Indians
except that the Haida open their arms and place them onto the chest of the
40 Part I. Haida Culture and History

person next to them, forming a cross. He then physically describes them as

having “good stature, well formed, smiling faces, beautiful eyes, and good
looking,” but he does not comment on their skin color, though the friar
accounts do (Bolton 1929:324). The Friars both record that the Haida were
white and Peña includes red complexioned. Crespi described them as “Son
gente bien dispuesta, blancos, con pelo largo...” “The people are well-built,
white, with long hair...” and Peña writes “Estos gentiles son bien
corpulentos y gordos, de buen semblante y de color blanco y vermejo”
“These people are well built, stocky, of good features-white and red in
color” (Cutter 1969:224). Perez does notice that they had long hair tied in
the back and that they adorned beards and mustaches as the Chinese. He
records seeing no weapons aboard the canoes.
As they approach within a musket shot, he observes them sing loudly
and with their smiling faces, they begin trading with the crew. Pérez’s
own comment on their vivacity for trading suggests that they have had
much experience with such vessels because they deal very briskly with the
crew as they trade. The Haida exchanged seal, sea otter, and bear skins, as
well as blankets in return for what Pérez vaguely refers to as “trifles”.
The Haida held what they wanted in order to be satisfied with it before
giving anything in return. Pérez comments on this characteristic and states
his contention that “one could believe that they have had frequent commerce
amongst them.”
The comment concerning the trade is seemingly an innocent
observation that, when pondered more deeply, reveals a characteristic
learned over a period time. The fact that they seem to have frequent
commerce among them only points to previous contact with other
European ships and that the Haidas were experienced with such contact
and trade. Historically, the coastal tribes had an intricate trade route with
each other and though the Haida had frequent contact with the neighboring
Tsimshian, Tlingit, Nisg’aa, Kwakuitl, Bella Bella, and Bella Coola (Cogo
& Cogo 1983:40; Collison 1981:99), trade with these groups rarely occurred
in Haida territory. The Haida usually canoed into their neighbor’s territory
when trading (Drucker 1963:143; Swanton 1905:163). When any of these
peoples came to Haida Gwaii, it would usually be through invitation to a
potlatch or perhaps in an aggressive attack on a village, but rarely for trade
purposes (Cogo & Cogo 41; Collison 1981:89, 93). Pérez’s comment
suggests that they are used to trading with foreign vessels because of their
demeanor, willingness, and adeptness in trade.
The first encounter occurs only for approximately thirty minutes,
according to Pérez, but the friar accounts suggest that the canoes came one
Was New Spain Really First? 41

at a time up until the end of the evening. The Haida invite the crew ashore
only to end the trading session with the Captain’s assurance that the crew
would go ashore the following day. The invitation ashore would have
been a joyful event with welcoming ceremonies and much celebration as
they set foot on Haida Gwaii (Cogo & Cogo 1983:26; Swanton 1905:163).
The second account of contact provides even further evidence of the
previous European contact. Pérez describes the Haidas, once again, with
much more detail in this second account even though there are 21 canoes
instead of just three. These people are from the village of Kuista and the
situation is similar in that the Haidas once again must come along side the
Santiago. As they approach, they begin to sing and cast feathers on the
water, but this time they also dance. Pérez does not mention seeing the sign
that the first group made with their open arms. As he describes them
physically, he observes that these Haida are “stocky, and good-looking as
well, white in appearance as well as in their features; most of them have
blue eyes, their hair is tied like the Spanish, and some wear a shoulder strap
like soldiers, likewise those who wear mustaches and have beards.” While it
may be interesting to read that these Haida had blue eyes, as he describes
the women, even more fascinating details unfold.
He writes that the women “were all good looking, white, and blonde.”
Pérez also provides sufficient details concerning the labrets and their attire.
It is still rather unbelievable that he is describing the Haidas, but in the
beginning of his description, he notes that the largest canoe approaching
holds 20–24 “Indians,” so it is sure that he is describing the Haida.
Subsequent Spanish and British expeditions would also describe the Haida as
having white skin (Drew 1982:22; Drucker 1963:23; Kendrick 1985:34),
though the blue eyes and blonde hair are missing from their descriptions.
In addressing the trade, Pérez notices that these Haida are more
interested in swords or machetes as barter items. He mentions that the
crew gave old clothes for the animal pelts which transgresses the articles
XV and XX in which Bucareli stated that the Indians should be given
prearranged gifts and treated kindly and affectionately (Servin 1961:241–
242). The crew members were not kind or affectionate in giving old clothes
for the pelts. The crew also would not give the Haidas the swords or
machetes they wanted, and instead, the Haidas settle for knives that originally
were not pleasing to them.
The similar trade manner once again suggests that there was prior
contact because it was not customary for Haidas to go and meet visitors
on the water (Deans 1899:17). During potlatches, the visitors would be
greeted as they came ashore with a procession of welcome and celebration
42 Part I. Haida Culture and History

ceremonies from the shore to the house (Cogo &Cogo 1983:26; Collison
1981:90). Though there is a specific ceremony of welcome once the visitors
were ashore (Drew 1982:82; Halpin 1981:12), it is only when the
Spanish refuse to come ashore that the Haida greet them on the water and
implement the same welcome from their canoes. It must, therefore, be a
result of seeing other similar ships surveying the land and not going ashore
that the Haida learn to greet the foreign ships and implement their astute
trade mannerisms.
The most convincing evidence of the prior European contact manifests
in Pérez’s observation of the Haida canoe with iron objects. He suggests
that the first items are instruments of cutting, then describes the second item
as a half a bayonet, and the last item as a fragment of a sword. These items
are not Haida. In the subsequent years of contact, the Haidas ultimately
name the Europeans that would visit and trade with them Yaats Ha’day
(Collison 1981:121; Stearns 1981:33). The translation of Yaats Ha’day is
“the iron people” (Cogo & Cogo 1983:51) and offers more evidence that
the presence of iron in this canoe precludes earlier European contact.
At the time Pérez visited Haida Gwaii, copper was the only valuable
metal among the coastal peoples. And since copper was extremely prized
among the Haida, Tlingit, Nisg’aa, Tsimshian, and Kwakuitl (Halpin
1981:13), during this time, iron would have been that much more
valuable (Kendrick 1985:25) and it is very unlikely that the iron
instruments would have been intertribally or intratribally traded or
given away in a potlatch because of its scarcity. Thus, it is safe to
assume that older Haida obtained the iron instruments in the canoe first
hand and not merely by intertribal/intratribal trade or by a potlatch.
The final evidence of prior contact comes from the journal of a
fellow officer, Mourelle, who records an idea that Pérez had concerning
the presence of iron. Concerning the iron implements, Mourelle writes:

que concepto Pérez fuesen de la gente el Capitán Tochirikoir mandó en su Lancha

en este mismo parage y jamás volvió. (Y Barra y Berge 1945:29)

that Pérez thought were from the men whom Captain Tochirikoir had sent ashore
in a launch in this same place, and who never returned.

Pérez himself supports the idea that, at the very least, the Russians had been
to the islands much earlier than the Spanish. The consequence of Russian
presence has somehow escaped the preeminence given to Spanish visitation
to the northwest coast even though much evidence to the contrary exists.
Was New Spain Really First? 43


I have reconsidered the widely accepted assumption that the Spanish were
the first Europeans to visit and meet the Haida. My challenge to that
assumption, based primarily on Pérez’s own diary, provided ample evidence
to reconsider the voyage of the Santiago as the first European ship in Haida
waters. First, the fact that the Haida went to meet the ship both times
strongly suggests that the Haida were used to such encounters, especially in
light of the fact that such actions did not occur when canoes from neighboring
villages or tribes visited Haida waters. Secondly, Pérez observed the manner of
trade and commented that the Haida were very adept to the process, which
indicates experience not only with the process, but with the foreigners as well.
Thirdly, the presence of iron instruments in the older Haida’s canoe suggests
direct contact with Europeans, and the term used for Europeans, “Yaats
Ha’day”, “the Iron people”, powerfully points to prior contact as well and
confirms the fourth point of evidence. Finally, though Pérez does not include
this information in his own diary, Officer Mourelle writes that Pérez thought
the instruments may have been from the Russians who visited the area in 1741.
Thus, the vast evidence of Pérez’s own observations reinterpreted in
the light of Haida history, language, and customs present a challenge to
the conclusion that the Spanish were the first Europeans to visit Haida
Chapter 4

Haida Humor

It is good to laugh, life is better because we laugh.

—Grace Wilson-Haida elder


Humor is perhaps the most fascinating distinctive social feature of humanity

that separates us from the animal kingdom. Humor is universally found
in every known human culture, though it is not necessarily similar culture
to culture. Vine Deloria writes, “One of the best ways to know a people is to
know what makes them laugh” (1969:146). Knowledge and appreciation of
any given culture’s humor requires native like competence in the language as
well as familiarity with the intricate historical, mythological, spiritual,
influences that pervades the culture’s worldview. Native Americans are
rather well-known for there stoic demeanor, and most early research
and publication on Native Americans did not include the topic of humor.
As early as 1902, Charles Eastman of the Sioux nation lamented that
nothing is “so exasperating to me as the idea that the natives of this country
have no sense of humor and no faculty for mirth” (267). Added to that, we
have the impact of Hollywood to exacerbate indigenous images of brutal,
vicious, uncaring, and unemotional begins, barely human if at all. But the
reality of humor among Native Americans is very different and contrary to
the notion of the stoic, stolid stereotypes, Haidas enjoy a wealth of laughter.
The Haidas have a long history living on the islands they call the
homeland of the Haida. George MacDonald notes “Art and culture evolved
in an unbroken line over at least 9,000 years” (quoted by M. Johnston
1987). Fedje and Mathewes suggest that human life on Haida Gwaii is at
least 10, 500 years long (2005:xviii). One other estimate is based on the
ancient seeds and pollen that are over 24,000 years old, and researchers
suggests that the islands may have been inhabited as just as long
(Barrie, Conway, Josenhans, Clague, Mathewes, & Fedje 2005:7). There is
46 Part I. Haida Culture and History

at least one agreement concerning the Haida habitation, it has been a long
time, and that is no laughing matter.
As Haida culture developed, the intricate humor developed as well.
Currently, the Haida enjoy many aspects of humor including, irony, light
word play, mockery, self degradation, as well as a very controversial
kinship function known as the joking relationship and one of the most
popular forms of entertainment, teasing. Dean affirms that,

Aside from teasing, Native humor often takes the form of witty remarks.
Delivered in a dry manner with little facial expression, witticisms may be a
means of protecting a sense of perspective while communicating a serious
message. They often appear as pithy one-liners that reflect observations of the
obvious. (2003:63).

Interestingly enough, most works (Drew 1982; Stearns 1981; Swanton 1909)
on the Haida community have been peculiarly silent and disregarded
references to or the presence of Haida humor. I want to look at how
these aspects of humor were present at a Haida immersion camp, but I
want to contrast the camp experience with humor in everyday life first, then
to see how the same humoristic expressions were manifested during the camp.
Humor among Native American cultures has received noteworthy
attention, and the fact that Native American cultures contain humor comes
a surprise to many people used to the stereotypical “stoic” persona. While
mainstream America, and even the world, questions the presence of humor
among Native American communities, it is certainly and richly enjoyed
within each community. Perhaps that is one of the keys to humor research or
experience that humor amongst Native American occurs within a
community, not necessarily readily apparent to onlookers. Edmund
Thickstun, a civil war soldier and then a teacher, reflects the popular
conception that Native Americans did not have the God given capacity
for humor. It is his experiences among many indigenous nations that
changes his mind:

In a short time, I revised my preconceived and erroneous pronouncement on the

subject. As I grew intimate with the Aricarees, Gros Ventre, Mandans, I found
not, indeed, Anglo-Saxon humor, but Indian Humor. And I found that in
proportion as I entered into the inner life of the Indian, I was able to understand
and appreciate his viewpoint, so that I could laugh when he laughed, and weep
when he wept. (Thickstun 1916:522)

Thickstun learns a valuable key to understanding that humor is a

culturally constructed and socially experienced aspect of native societies.
Haida Humor 47

Kenneth Lincoln’s observation, “Indians laugh a lot” (1993:21), is

replete with layers of complexity and also dispels the notion of the humorless
natives. Why this notion of an abundance of laughter is surprising probably
comes from cultural proscriptions for when and how humor is acceptable.
First, for the Haida, humor is an intimate form of exchange between
friends and family. Thus, if this is the case among other Indigenations,
observing Native American humor must happen in specifically defined
situations. If you are not within any of the socially acceptable roles, you
probably will not encounter or experience much humor. According to
Dean, “humor is an important part of the Native American tradition. It
continues to play an active personal, social, spiritual, and political role
within the culture” (2003:64). Secondly, Haida humor is often variedly
different from mainstream humor, full of irony and teasing, though there
are similarities through subtle language use to evoke laughter, such as the
honed comedians. Finally, in conjunction with Lincoln’s observation,
Haida elder Grace Wilson provides a life lesson about laughter as she states,
“It is good to laugh, life is better because we laugh.”

Everyday Life Humor

Perhaps the most prevalent aspect of Haida humor is irony. According
to the Oxford English Dictionary, irony is a “condition of affairs or
events of a character opposite to what was, or might naturally be,
expected; a contradictory outcome of events as if in mockery of the
promise and fitness of things.” Irony is the element that Lincoln refers to
“when incongruous parts edge each other, the superimposed slippage
becomes comic—that is playfully sensical” (1993:28). Thus, we laugh at
things that are askew, especially if we can appreciate the relationship
between the norm and how it has gone awry. Mockery also has its
presence in irony, and Andrews explains that the

mocking aspects of irony, when used within a humorous text or situation, can
temper or even undercut what is usually perceived as funny. Conversely, irony
may remind readers of the ridiculousness of a situation or stereotype that might
otherwise be entirely devoid of humor. (2000:202)
48 Part I. Haida Culture and History

There is, however, a danger that the irony may be too cerebral, or so
close to simply making what may be perceived as a simple observation
without any humor intended.
One of the Haida Nation’s current prevalent artist, Michael Nicoll
Yahgulanaas, uses irony in his art to impact both mainstream Canadian/
American communities as well as First Nations communities. A quick look
at his early sketches reveal Yahgulanaas’ use of irony as commentary on
issues regarding First Nations sovereignty, identity, land, mineral, and water
rights, particularly in regards to the Haida Nation. For example, in “Two
Crooks” there are two masked men arguing behind a podium with fingers in
each other’s faces while a Haida man standing in tradition garb watches them
with an angry look on his face. One of the men is a representative of the
Federal government of Canada, and the other is a representative of the British
Columbia provincial government. A sign on the podium with only two words
reveals the irony, offshore jurisdiction. The irony is that in the discussion of
sovereignty, the Haida Nation can only look on as the federal and provincial
government decide the fate of jurisdiction that is rightfully the Haidas. The
Haida Nation has never ceded their land or territory, yet Canada and BC
refuse to acknowledge basic Haida sovereignty. Thus, irony can be edgy,
whimsical, certainly prevalent, but it can also be met without much laughter,
and we will see that with the Haida.
The marvelous presence of eagles and ravens (the two clans of
Haida) on the northwest coast is the base of much of the mythology of the
Haida. Anyone who has ever spent time on Haida Gwaii (the islands of
the Haida) or on the northwest coast (from Washington State to Alaska)
will have seen an unusual display of aggression against the bald eagle.
Ravens will fly along with the eagles pecking the eagle as it slowly flies
away. The sight evokes tremendous astonishment because of the great size
difference and the lack of response from the eagle. If a visitor catches sight
of this spectacle, their typical reaction is usually shock and disillusionment
because of the expectation of the raptor eagle to be a great and mighty
bird, and not to be bantered by any lesser bird, especially a scavenger raven.
But eagles do not seem bothered by the hassle and so it is an ironic sight to
see a raven annoying an eagle.
For the Haida, the raven is the great trickster, the creator and yet very
inquisitive. Much of the creative aspects of the trickster raven is not
necessarily one of intentionality, nor volition. One Haida story concerning
the raven’s color gives insight concerning its present state. The first
raven, Yehl, is white and becomes black as he becomes tries to escape
from a Haida dwelling through the smoke hole in the roof. The accumulated
Haida Humor 49

soot and the tight hole causes the raven to turn black as he squeezes out of
the house. Ravens have been black since that time, according to the
Haida version of this story. The resulting irony reveals that even
though driven by appetite and deceit, the light Yehl wanted for himself
ultimately benefits everyone when he drops the light from his beak and then
becomes the sun, stars, and moon.
Irony in everyday life consists of the daily grind of existence.
Living in the Canadian northwest, especially on the coast, often means
having seasonal employment, particularly during the cycles of the salmon
from early June to the end of August, and herring from as early as
February to the end of May. For many residents survival for the year
depends on the catch of these two seasons, and what causes the irony is the
difference of lifestyles prior to being westernized (Blackman 1982:113;
Drew 1982:32). The typical Haida lifestyle prior to western contact was
seasonal as well, but with a tremendous difference, the work was
ultimately for accumulating food for the family to survive in their winter
location away from their summer coastal home. Now the subsistence for
some is based on doing menial tasks in the cannery that provide money to
buy the food needed during the winter rather than storing food for the
winter (Stearns 1981:88). The irony is that the fish are still the focus of
subsistence for many Haidas, like my brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins,
but now it is gathering the fish and processing it for someone else instead of
one’s own family.
The most difficult irony to bear has to do with the language and
culture. The Haidas have been subjects of many anthropological and
linguistic analyses (Enrico 1980; Sapir 1920; Swanton 1905) and the
outcomes usually have been beneficial for the researchers and not
necessarily the Haidas. Historically, the presence of the totem poles and
often the rites associated with the raising of totem reflect tremendous
misunderstandings with missionaries who misunderstood their significance
as well as the Canadian government that banned the potlatch ceremony. The
result is destruction of the Haida totem poles without little attempt to
understand that the totem poles were often symbolic lineages of the
owners, a signpost of the owners’ clan, family history, and occasionally
a story or even a joke. The destruction begins at the same time museums of
Canada and museums around the world suddenly became interested in
having the discarded poles. There are some poles, even whole villages that
pillaged for artifacts of Haida culture in order to preserve fascinating aspects
of Haida of the Northwestern Coast. Ironically, it is bad for the Haida
Nation to continue their practices with the totem poles, but completely
50 Part I. Haida Culture and History

acceptable for Museums to keep the totem poles as a reminder of the

Haida practice.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of Northwest Coastal Indians
(see Drucker 1955; Owen, Deetz, & Fisher 1967), including the Tlingit,
Nootka, Coastal Salish, Tsimshian, Nishga, Bella Coola, Kwakiutl as well
as the Haida, concerns the practice of “potlatching.” It is simply a
ceremonial celebration of honor. The word’s origin is the Chinook jargon,
the lingua franca of trade among the northern and coastal tribes (Drucker
1955:131). It is based on the principle of reciprocity and honor within in
individual tribes, as well as intertribally. The giver of the potlatch would
provide an elaborate feast for his guests and as the purpose of the potlatch
required (becoming the chief, in response to being physically saved from
fatal danger, totem pole raising, etc.), the guests would receive gifts
from the host. The Canadian government banned the practice in the 1884
and the potlatches went underground due to the severe punishments. But the
impact of the ban eventually eradicates the event from occurring at all. In
the minds of many Haidas and other First Nations communities, honor
and reciprocity could not be acceptable expressions for Canada’s first
“citizens” because the government deems potlatching as an uncivilized
The paradoxical prevailing attitude towards land possession also has
affected the lives of the Haidas. With only two reservations on the islands,
Massett and Skidegate, the remaining 99% of the land is considered
“crown land” because when British Columbia was incorporated as a
province of Canada, all the territory was assumed and possessed by the
government without ever consulting the Native residents or signing any
treaties. This fact is now the impetus of many legal actions of
numerous tribes seeking to regain ownership of land they previously
enjoyed. On Haida Gwaii (the officially recognized name of the island),
Haidas set a precedent of protest against the forest industry when they would
not allow the trucks to go into the central forest and as a result, the
police and media became involved. One event that set the stage to
change the logging forever involved Haida Nations citizens forming a
human blockade to stop the logging trucks, equipment, and men from
advancing to the destination to harvest some of the oldest trees in Canada in
1985. The irony involved in this protest reveals that some Haidas formed the
blockade, while some Haidas were part of the logging company, and yet
other Haidas were on the police force arresting the protestors.
Such pressure from media exposure and subsequent information
concerning the location of the logging reveals that the territory was never
Haida Humor 51

ceded to the government. This area contains the oldest living trees in
Canada, as well as many other flora and fauna only indigenous to that part
of the island and unfound elsewhere. The Haidas protest for recognition
of the value of the forest, as well as their rights to ownership. The Canadian
government’s solution: make it a national park, thus retaining government
ownership and maintaining control of access to the land.
One final area of irony concerns the Haida language. Sapir originally
classified Haida as part of the Na-Dane family. Recent research and re-
evaluation has generated a controversy with some linguists classifying
Haida as an isolate, and therefore unrelated to any languages (see Levine
1979; Campbell 1990, Krauss 2005). Levine has suggested that Sapir
relied too heavily on Navajo data for comparisons and that he had
assumed relatedness to Tlingit and Athabaskan based on methodological
flaws (Levine 1979:171). Prior to the recently acknowledged status as an
isolate, Haida has and is being studied for various reasons. The results of
the studies have usually been largely academic, so that only those with
linguistic training, especially in phonology and morphophonemic syntax,
receive any benefit from the published material. A recent irony regards
the linguistic material published becoming the author’s property. Since the
author translated stories, it is now necessary to receive his permission to
use the stories or suffer copyright infringement and a lawsuit. It seems
strange to ask a foreigner to Haida Gwaii for his permission to use a Haida
story that has suddenly become his property.

Teasing takes many forms. Haidas invariably love to tease. The subject
matter and purpose can range from appearance to zoology, and anything
inbetween, and can be for entertainment or heuristic purposes. The
kinship system closely regulated proper teasing relationships, such as
mother’s sister’s or brother’s children, but not father’s sister’s or brother’s
children because matrilineally, the offspring of the siblings of the mother
were considered brothers and sisters. The joking relationship usually occurs
with the brother’s wife, and that usually involves teasing as the main
form of joking (Cohen & Eames 1982:161). My younger brother assumes
this joking relationship role without his awareness and at times I have had
to warn my wife never to believe anything he says about me.
I once went with him to get my hair cut at a local hair salon where
his friend worked. Upon arriving back home to my wife, her normal inquiry
52 Part I. Haida Culture and History

of “how did it go?” was met by a very enthusiastic response by my brother

saying “You should have seen him flirting with her!” She was aghast
and very jealous because my brother sounded so convincing; she simply
believed him. He just laughed at us and would not change his story,
which made me look rather complicit to his version of the events. Such
teasing is basically for entertainment. He finally relented when he felt I was
in enough trouble and it was not funny anymore, so he simply said, “No, he
didn’t do that, I was just kidding.”
Heuristic teasings are subtle attempts to coerce guarded information.
Information that usually is embarrassing or individual knowledge that is
not ready to be shared as common is the focus of such teasings. The
target of such teasing usually wants the information sought to remain
private, if not secret. An example of this type of teasing happens among
preteens and early teenagers who are interested in knowing the relational
status of others and will tease the information out of their peers. A simple
inquiry “Have you kissed her yet?” can prime the response of “what’s it to
you?” which then begins the mockery. This type of teasing is usually
limited to adult to children, or children to children, and even on
occasion, children to adult. The later would be in regards to humorous
historical inquiries for entertainment purposes, “Remember when you...”
which may or may not bring about the warranted reaction.

Light Word Play

Like many other cultures, Haidas love to engage in word play situation in
order to make light of the subject or situation. The subtle semantic
nuances have tremendous bearing on these situations. Florence Edenshaw
Davidson exemplifies this attitude with flair as she discusses the advent of
receiving the modern luxuries of a phone (late 1950’s) and electricity
(1964) with a local resident. When asked how she was keeping, “‘Not too
good,’ I told him. ‘You white people should leave us alone. You gave us
the telephone and you gave lights. All we worry about is bills coming in.
We like to have all the lights on and we like to phone long distance, now
we have to pay the bills’” (Blackman 1982:136).
One other example comes from discussion that centered on the lack
of lawyers that represent the concerns of the Haida. A proud father,
whose son had planned on becoming a lawyer, commented that his son
would be his lawyer. The son, watching TV, was quick to correct his father
saying, “I said I was going to be lawyer, I didn’t say I was going to be
Haida Humor 53

your lawyer.” This type of play with words is the most common form of
Haida humor, which will be elaborated upon later.

Mockery and Self-Degradation

Mockery functions typically as entertainment, unless it is done out of
jealousy, then it is personally motivated. Mockery among the Haida serves
the general purpose of exciting the victim to lose his or her temper, which
will then be another scenario that is ridiculed. To cause someone to lose
face is a diversion that borders on cruelty. In my own life, I remember my
brothers and sisters mocking me after my stepfather disciplined me. After
watching me suffer through the physical discipline, and after I was sitting
on the couch recovering with my sniffles and whelps, they would look at
me and pretend to laugh. They did not actually voice the laughter cause they
might possibly suffer the same discipline if they were caught, so it was
carefully timed glances and silent mocking laughter. I also remember
mocking their pain and sorrow by making faces at them during their
punishment. We made faces at each other in order to evoke an audible
response that would result in being punished again. A lighter side of
mockery is similar to that of imitation or caricature that is done to
downplay the target’s role or influence upon the imitator.
Self-degradation is an interesting way for expressing humor, but it
reflects a very important Haida maxim not to take one’s self so seriously.
In fact, a Haida should never be boastful of their own accomplishments,
though it is fine to boast about others. Boelscher (1989:90) notes that one
way to humble a Haida is to speak well of them in public because then
that person has to live up to the “kind” words spoken about them.
Florence Edenshaw Davidson exemplifies this aspect of humor as well as she
recalls being invited with her husband to partake in a ship’s christening in
the British Columbia capitol, Victoria. Her attitude reflects self-
degradation beautifully as she was told to “make yourself look real
neat, you’re going to see all kind of cameras today” to which she
responded “I don’t think so...We are old and we’re just Indians”
(Blackman, 1982:31). Florence was born in 1896, she added more about
her age, “Q’edaeng e?du ijing-old and good for nothing. I’m just like an
old tree. Nothing’s good for it. Sunshine makes it crack, and then rain
soaks in the cracks” (Blackman 1982:138). Such selflessness is
54 Part I. Haida Culture and History

Immersion Camp Humor

Introduction to the Camp

The immersion camp was arranged by April Churchill when she secured a
grant from the National Parks Board of Alaska. The intended monies were
originally dated for the summer of 1994, but due to April’s insistence of
the imminent and crucial situation with the fluent elders’ age and health,
the grant was released for use in August of 1993. There were a total of
twenty people not including the cook (Michelle, functioning solely as the
cook) participating in the immersion. There were six elders in attendance,
four from Massett: Henry Geddes, Grace Wilson, Ethel Jones, and Mary
Swanson; the two remaining elders, Delores Churchill and Phyllis Almquist,
were from Ketchikan, Alaska. There a man attending as an “elder in
training;” he could understand Haida fluently, but his production was not
fluent. There were seven of us that were in the mid-twenties to the mid-
forties range and the rest were teenagers: two were 14 (male and female),
two were 16 (male and female) one was 17 (female), and one was 18
Prior to departure for Kuista, the northwestern most location of the
main island, there was one meeting for general introduction. At this meeting
materials were compiled for perusal and consideration to take to the camp.
Recordings were made of the level of ability for everyone and then
everyone introduced himself or herself and explained their reason for
wanting to learn Haida or to teach it, as the case may have been.

The irony for me was that I had to take part in a camp in order to gain
enough exposure to Haida, my native language, to begin learning it. I had
been exposed to Haida during my formative years when we went to visit my
mother’s father and mother, tsini and nani. It was usually a family affair
and I remember listening to them speak in Haida, a very different sounding
language from English. I often wondered why I was not taught more than
just occasional vocabulary. My mother’s own fluency was limited and
she lacked any confidence concerning her ability and knowledge of Haida,
as a result, she did not pass it on to my brothers, my sisters, or me.
Some of the elders also lacked confidence in their Haida linguistic
ability as well, which was very ironic since they were supposed to teach us
Haida Humor 55

Haida. This lack of confidence, as well as idiosyncratic usage, caused many

problems for the students as they tried to prepare a speech, or song for
presentation. The apprentices were often confronted with varied
translations that elders provided. The problems arose when one elder’s
translation was different from the other elder’s and was quick to inform
the student that this translation was indeed the correct one. While these
incidents reflected the ideology of the particular elder, it was disconcerting
for students who had the notion, quite common among second language
learners, that there is only one way to translate a phrase.
Perhaps the most ironic situation happened unexpectedly. The
president of the Council of Haida Nations was entertaining governmental
guests and they thought it would be a good idea to visit the camp,
unannounced. During their three-hour boat ride, the word of the visit got to
us somehow and we were supposed to speak only Haida in front of these
visitors when they arrived. When they arrived, no one spoke a word of
Haida, not even the elders. In fact, the visitors’ presence caused dissension
in the camp. They came to see people learning Haida, and departed
having never heard a single Haida word, except for the location of the
camp, Kuista.
Possibly the worst situation happened with expectations concerning film
and recording equipment. The objective was to record everything, not
to have anything dealing with Haida unrecorded. There were four
camcorders, and five or six cassette recorders and plenty of rechargeable
batteries, as well a gas powered electrical generator. The first night we
arrived, the generator worked for two minutes, died, and then was
broken for the rest of the time. The batteries could not be recharged at
Kuista, instead they were recharged only twice at a resort a forty minute boat
ride away.
Perhaps the most interesting experience occurred in the event of a
failed joke. Michael, one of the mid-twenties to mid-forties, had this idea
to play a joke on Trevor, one of the teenage boys. It was Friday night and
plans were being made to tell stories of sligu, a Haida version of the
bogeyman. Michael thought it would be funny to have someone make
strange noises during the story telling. He eventually talked Trevor into
hiding in the forest clad only in his shorts and to cover himself with mud.
Trevor was to wait for the sound effects then to come into the campfire like a
madman to scare everyone. Michael’s original intention was to have
Trevor get scared from being in the forest for about an hour and a half
from twilight till it was dark. Trevor, on the other hand, had the time of his
life. It was a rite of passage for Trevor and he openly thanked Michael at
56 Part I. Haida Culture and History

the formal dinner hosted for the campers by the Massett community of the
Haida Nation after the camp was over. When Trevor did finally run
into the campfire, everyone was expecting him, so no one was scared.
Finally, one last area of irony concerned the habit of tobacco
smoking. It was originally understood that smoking was not allowed at the
camp. Approximately half of the people smoked but with the exception of
the elder Ethel, everyone else had no option of smoking while at the camp.
Ethel was invited to participate at the camp because she was a fairly
mobile elder and her presence was important, and because of her
dependency on tobacco, she was allowed to take cigarettes with her.
The irony came when we arrived at camp and it was determined that
smoking was acceptable. The same people who were conditioned into
living a stretch of ten days without smoking and were psychologically
prepared to do without tobacco, suddenly had to deal with the fact that they
were allowed to smoke, but had not taken enough supplies. Two ironies
were present: one, that they were conditioned for not smoking, but could; and
two, that they could smoke but didn’t have any. Many of us thought it
was funny, however it was only those of us who did not smoke.

Teasing was abundant during this camp. I teased and I was teased. Teasing
among the Navajo served many functions, and often it was a form of social or
behavioral control (Webster 2010: 51), which happens among the Haida as
well. But teasing also can indicate that those teasing you like you and that is
why they are teasing in the first place (2010:50). One event that happened with
the elder Grace occurred when two of the young teenage girls were going on a
hike to the Kuista main camp. They were somehow related to Grace (so was I)
and both very close to her. I was hanging around with Grace and Ethel
querying them concerning Haida. The two girls came to inform Grace that they
were going for a walk and were looking for someone to go with them. Since
this was their first venture from the main camp by themselves and because
they weren’t familiar with the trail, they wanted someone else to accompany
them. Grace urged me to go with them for a few minutes and I really was not
interested in going so I steadfastly resisted her urging. She insistently teased
me that I should go with them until I informed her I was married. “Waa! How
old are you?” she asked. “Thirty three” I replied. “Waa! Gee, I thought you
were 18 or 19” she commented. Then she was quiet for a minute, suddenly she
had a gleam in her eye, “Go with them anyways, and just have fun. We are old
Haida Humor 57

and they are young, go with them.” I laughed, but I did not go, despite of
Grace’s attempts and teases.
There is a Haida rule that you cannot tease the opposite clan, but that was
not adhered by the teenagers (Murdock 1934:374). Gloria and Shawn (both
eagles) fought like brother and sister, and Trevor and Shawn loved to tease
Melissa (eagles and raven). The teasing was the typical teenage banter of who
was better or stronger or whose song was better. One event concerning Shawn
and Gloria was quite humorous. Somehow, the subject turned to self-defense.
Shawn, inspired by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thought he was superior
to Gloria, though they were physically the same size. Gloria mentioned that
she had taken judo and was teasingly mocked that she could not even flip
Shawn if she tried. Gloria commenced attempting to flip Shawn who was in a
state of laughter all his own. Suddenly, as they were struggling, Gloria put her
right foot behind Shawn and flipped him. Shawn was so delirious he did not
care, a typical joking relationship response. Gloria, however, triumphantly
returned to her seat near the fire.

Light Word Play

Light word play was rampant at the immersion camp and the elders
engaged in constant word play. One situation was very humorous and
ironic at the same time. All the elders, five women and one man (Henry),
were in one building because it was the only one with a wood burning stove
which provided heat for the cabin. Henry’s bed was in the corner with an
elaborate maze of sheets serving as curtains to furnish privacy for both the
ladies and himself. During the camp, the youth were constantly reprimanded
for being so loud and boisterous at the evening fire because they kept the
elders awake in bed long after they had retired for the evening.
One night all the youth went to bed earlier than usual, as did the
elders. Just as Henry was getting ready for bed, one of the women, Grace
(who was in her 80’s), said “I’m ready, Henry!” in a suggestive tone and
their cabin burst with laughter. “Well, I am not,” said Henry, and again,
the cabin roared with laughter. Suddenly, someone else chimed in, “I’m
next” she said. More laughter ensued, and Henry responded wittingly “Be
patient, we have all night.” Then everyone joined in, “What about me?” they
queried and laughed. Henry, not about to be outwitted replied “Gee, you
girls are so hard to please.” The rest of the evening was spent in such loud
laughter that kept the camp awake until they were finished. The irony here
was that the teens wanted to tone down their regular fire event and allow
58 Part I. Haida Culture and History

the elders some peace and quiet to sleep, and the elders ended up joking
loudly all night long, thus keeping the teens awake.
I mentioned Shawn a few times prior to this, but let me fill you a
little more concerning his personality. He was 14 years old and was
very energetic. He was fascinated with the world of ninjas and called
Michael, me, and himself “the ninja dudes.” Shawn’s mind was brilliant for
one-liners, and fast. I loved being around him and being included in his
world. One day the three of us went on a hike, a ‘ninja hike’ according to
Shawn. His knowledge of the terrain was fairly broad and our first 15
minutes we ascended to the top of a hill. All the way up Shawn was
rambling on about how ninjas needed to be very careful and to watch out
for each other. He also commented that it would be good to come up with
ninja names for ourselves. Michael immediately dubbed Shawn “Ninja
Knot Head Dude” and Shawn dubbed “Ninja Washingboard Belly” as
Michael’s name which parodied Michael’s actual beer belly. My name was
“Ninja Little Stick” which made Shawn roar when he thought of it and
dubbed me with it.

As we descended down the other side of the mountain, I fell. “Nice ninja move, Ninja
Little Stick,” Shawn quickly commented.

“It is important for ninjas to know how to fall without injury” I retorted.

“Good ninja wisdom” chimed Michael. And as we continued on the trail, Michael
fell. “Another ninja move, man you guys are good,” Shawn replied.

“Years of experience, young Ninja Knot Head” Michael added.

“We must teach you everything now while there is time,” I added, and we all laughed.
“Boy you guys are serious Ninja Dudes,” Shawn said.

As we hiked on, Shawn suddenly fell off a log and as he landed, his pant leg
caught a branch of the log he was walking over. Somehow he was hanging
suspended over the log by his pants. It was a very funny sight and I said “Now this
is the best ninja move I’ve ever seen.” We all were cracking up and I helped
Shawn out of his predicament.

“Thank you, Ninja Little Stick, I meant to do that,” he replied and we laughed
harder. We pressed merrily onwards. Being in Shawn’s presence automatically
provided humor, he was naturally funny.

One final word play concerns a song that Shawn and Trevor were
learning reveals a modern adaptation of a traditional song to a modern
setting. The Haida song’s chorus, “si ah ay ta,” went through some
Haida Humor 59

transformations as they were practicing one night. The next day we were
blessed with the new version of what I then dubbed a “modern Haida love
song.” They went through the song but then at the end, the modification of
“si ah’ ay ta” became English for “see you lay ta.” and ended with “So
long. Bye, bye. Honey pie, honey pie.” The elders didn’t know what to
think, but everyone else seemed to enjoy the modernized version. After the
camp, there was a community dinner in Massett where they decided to
recognize the participants of the Haida immersion camp. We were
supposed to exhibit our newly learned Haida skill, but I had to leave
early to catch a plane. I said goodbye to everyone from the camp, and as I
walked out of the hall I noticed that Michael, Trevor, and Shawn had gotten
up to the front to the microphone and started singing the song in my honor.
So as I left, the words “See ya lay ta. So long. Bye, bye honey pie, honey
pie” rang in my ears.

Mockery and Self-degradation

Mockery is a favored Haida pastime. I was the “urban Indian” among the
immersion crowd, as well as the newcomer to the islands, so in a sense, I
was green. I was also unknown by everyone at the camp, though half of
them were my (what the Haida refer to as) “relations.” That status was
an element I enjoyed because I prefer being mysterious, or at least aloof.
One of my misinterpreted characteristics happens to be my physiognomy, a
condition that I don’t particularly pay much attention to, at least in terms of
smiling. I do seem to have a rather serious demeanor. My lack of smiles
suddenly became the object of mockery soon after the camp began.
Smiling was very important to two of the teen-agers, Harmony and
Christine. I greeted them with the required courtesy, but I guess I wasn’t
smiling as much as they wanted me to. They soon began inquiring why I
was so uptight. After a couple of days, they began to refer to me as
“smiley” in an effort to get me to smile. Whenever I did smile, they
made a big fuss over it saying things like “Wow, look, Frederick is
actually smiling” or “Don’t do that too much, it might be dangerous for your
face.” Near the end of the camp, we were supposed to make, find, or
provide a gift for the person whose name we pulled out of a hat. Christine
pulled my name and she wove me a headband, as well as a piece of bark
carved into a round happy face.
A very interesting case of mockery happened when Grace was teaching
us about splitting spruce roots. Everyone was very quiet as explained
60 Part I. Haida Culture and History

everything she did in Haida and had Delores translate into English. All our
ears and eyes focused on Grace as she said something then switched over to
Delores for the translation. It became too serious for Grace and she began
to mock us in Haida. She spoke in Haida and Delores suddenly began to
giggle, “You’re too loud, be quiet,” Delores translated. We just continued
to observe. Grace spoke again. This time Delores’ giggle was more
enthusiastic, “She said, ‘Someone tell a joke,’” she translated after she
stopped giggling. Still no response from the crowd, we continued our
focused attention on what Grace was doing. Grace spoke again, and this
time Delores was laughing heartily, “She said, ‘Stop laughing so hard.’”
There was still no response from us, though Delores had a lot of fun.
Grace then had people split their own roots and thus, ended her lesson and
Cases of self-degradation have been in two main areas: the first was
linguistic capability in Haida, the second was one’s age. Personally, I
remarked at the first meeting that I only remembered one word beyond nani
and tsini and it was sklunai. Mark Bell, the elder in training, was fluent in
understanding and was being mentored to gain fluency in Haida speech
production, translated my remembered word. The term simply translated
meant “shitty ass.” This very descriptive Haida term used to describe an
especially real gastrointestinal condition is usually as a result of
intestinal gas build up and then the subsequent explosion, or it is used to
describe unpopular person or situation. Mark also berated Haida his
ability, but was very happy to be mentored, and chuckled when he
translated the meaning for sklunai.
Grace, and Ethel were the eldest ladies, and Henry was the eldest man.
Grace was the eldest of the elders, and yet she was full of life and laughter.
When the day arrived to collect spruce roots, she was the first one to leave,
taking her chair with her. When she came back, I spoke to her about the
event and she replied, “I am old, but I love to go collect roots. I don’t
care how long it takes me to get there, I am old but I still can gather roots.”
Ethel (Grace and Ethel had adopted each other as sisters) was not very
confident of herself in speaking as well as the other elders, but was
adamant about her skill in understanding the others as well as pronouncing
what she did know.
Another elder, Mary (one of my “relations”) had a very unique situation.
Her gear had been two days late in arriving, and she had taken out her false
teeth. So for two days she was without her teeth, and when she finally
received her gear, she nonchalantly commented “When you get old,
something’s don’t matter so much, like how you look.”
Haida Humor 61


Humor is very important to the Haida. Grace Wilson commented that

laughter made her feel good inside. The idea that Haidas, or any of the
Indian tribes are devoid of humor reminds me of Colonel Richard Irving
Dodge’s observation:

In the presence of strangers he is reserved and silent...The general impression seems

to be that the Indian, wrapped in his blanket and impenetrable mystery, and with a
face of gloom, stalks through life unmindful of pleasure and pain. Nothing can be
further from the truth. The dignity, the reserve, the silence, are put on just as a New
York swell puts on his swallow-tailed coat and white choker for a dinner party,
because it is his custom. In his own camp, away from strangers, the Indian is a noisy,
jolly, rollicking, mischief loving braggadocio, brimful of practical jokes and rough
fun of any kind making welkin ring with his laughter. (qtd. by Easton 1970:178)

The first line sums up the amazing cultural insight Dodge displayed with
just the first five words, “In the presence of strangers.” If Haida humor is
also a sign of intimacy and acceptance, then it must require more than
being a stranger to experience what is funny to Haidas. Quite simply, humor
is best experienced intimately with friends and family, but this is trait is
hardly unique to the Haida since many cultures do not openly display
emotions for public scrutiny. The danger remains for mainstream culture
to impose its standard of what is humorous, and what is not, upon the
Haida and when there is no visible correlation, to conclude with the false
assumption that the Haida lack humor.
A final expression of Haida humor concerns a well-known artist’s
induction of his hand-carved canoe into a Washington, D.C. Museum.
Apparently, prior to the museum event, the President made a very
unwelcome decision concerning the forests that the carver so loved. The
artist accompanied the canoe in order to ensure its display was perfectly
set up. The crane operator was taken aback at the precision that the
artist required and assumed a spiritual reason for the exact alignment.
After the canoe was finally displayed, he asked the artist to explain why.

“On the canoe” the carver explained, “there is a bear.” “I saw it,” the crane operator

“Look closely,” said the carver, “the bear’s ass?” “Yeah?”

“It points towards the White House.” (Cahill 1993:104)

62 Part I. Haida Culture and History

Cahill succinctly summarizes the essence of Haida humor in his words as he

notes, “They could laugh about things that were serious and could be
serious about things that were funny” (1993:99).
I end this chapter with the same words I began with, Grace Wilson’s
words. She wonderfully exemplified the Haida attitude towards life when
she told me, “It is good to laugh, life is better because we laugh.”
Chapter 5

Why Raven Stole

the Light:
Revisiting Haida
Oral History

There has been a healthy interest in Haida oral literature ever since visitors
have encountered the namesake people of Haida Gwaii. Oral literature of
North America in general has had a very profound impact on the world as
stories have been translated from the indigenous language and then
transported across the great waters to the continents on the other side of the
world. King explains the significance of oral literature for North American

Within the oral literature of the tribes of the Americas—most clearly seen in oral
creation stories—are a set of relationships which define the world Indian people saw
and understood (and still see, for that matter): the relationship between humans and
deity, the relationship between humans and animals, the relationship between humans
and the land, and the relationship between good and evil. These same relationships
appear within Western European cosmology (Genesis) though the ways in which they
are defined and understood are substantially different. (1987:7)

King’s last point is key to the issues of interpretation, that though much of the
relationships found in the indigenous stories are similar to European
relationships, the distinctive definitions and rules for understanding those
relationships have much to bear on the cultural significance within each story.
Time has certainly passed since the recording of ancient narratives in the
oral tradition. The current approach to literature has coined a new term for
this blending of two previously separated aspects. The Oxford English
Dictionary records the blend of oral and literature into a single term, orature,
which it defines as a “body of poetry, tales, etc., preserved through oral
transmission as part of a particular culture, esp. a preliterate one.” Haida
64 Part I. Haida Culture and History

orature concerning Raven is vast, so much so that there is a body of work

referred as the Raven cycle. One particular story common among other
coastal tribes, including the Tsimshian, Tlingit, and Kwakuitl, is the story of
raven stealing light. First Nations and the world as well find stories within the
raven cycle enamoring. This chapter explores this popular northwest coast
narrative comparing it to a lesser-known Haida version explaining why raven
stole the light.
For much of the Northwest Coastal Nations, Raven is a trickster. Yehl
is the Haida name for this character. Trickster figures in mythology often
have creative and destructive powers, transforming ability, and insatiable
appetites which often motivate many of the their subsequent experiences.
If it is necessary to include a fourth aspect, then the quality of silliness has
much insight to offer regarding the trickster’s personality. According to
Collison, four is an important number among the Haida, representing four
directions of the wind, four seasons, and the four holistic elements of our
lives, “physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual” (2010:19). Velie also
explains that more than just given to playing tricks or jokes on his victims,
the trickster

…is far more complex than that. The same figure, in the same set of tales,
appears to be alternately an evil spirit and a benevolent deity, a mortal and a god, a
creator and destroyer, a culture here an villain. At times he is an ideal citizen, a
model to tribal members; at others he is a totally amoral being who flouts the
most sacred taboos with impunity. With all the fluctuations, certain things about the
trickster are predictable: he is always a wonderer, always hungry, and usually
oversexed. (1991:44)

Raven consistently manifests all these trickster qualities in the Haida

The raven figure in Haida narratives involves many facets of
complexity as he transforms from animal to human and back again.
This transformative nature of the trickster character is important to
Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, the creator of Haida Manga. Haida Manga is a
contemporary graphic expression of traditional Haida art with Japanese
Manga, a picture with a vast horizon. Yahgulanaas says his art not European,
but instead is derived from islands in the North Pacific Ocean: Haida Gwaii
and Japan. The key figure for Yahgulanaas is Raven. He suggests part of the
nature of this trickster functions to allow “us to explore all those impolite
sides of ourselves that exist, but that we keep locked away, that we have
difficulty in confronting and dealing with” (Kiefer 2008). He also mentions
that Raven’s appetite is such that compels him to extremes, such that, in
Why Raven Stole the Light 65

speaking in the voice of Raven, “One will never do, I need ten” (Kiefer
Humor is certainly part of the trickster tales all around the world. But
there is also the heuristic impact that cannot be denied as well. The stories
are full of experiences and characteristics that expose the trickster’s
personality in such a way that it is almost impossible for the children not
to learn lessons about what kind of character they should have. If the
children in the audience were to encounter situations like the trickster,
they should learn other ways to solve the problems or discover other
ways to engage in the community that would not result in the demise
of the community or the individual’s character, which is usually the
result for Raven. It is, in fact, the humor involved in the stories that
makes it so memorable, and thus very effective for character development.
Along the northwest coast of Canada and southeastern Alaska,
stories of Raven abound (Gannon 2009:237). Raven is the trickster, the
creator, moved by moments of wonder, and other times driven by his
insatiable appetite. A common story among the Haida, Tsimshian, Tlingit,
Kwakwaka-wakw concerns the advent of light into this world. Raven is
also a central figure in Haida mythology: Yehl, his Haida name,
created the universe. But in all his creativeness, he did not create light; he
simply wants to steal it so he alone can have it. Consider the Oxford English
Dictionary definition for light:

That natural agent or influence which (emanating from the sun, bodies
intensely heated or burning, and various other sources) evokes the functional
activity of the organ of sight. a. Viewed as the medium of visual perception
generally. Also, the condition of space in which light is present, and in which
therefore vision is possible. Opposed to darkness. (OED.com)

The definition illuminates the difficulty in navigation or simple task of

seeing anything as a result there being no light. We need light to see. Sight
is only possible when there is light. At least this is what we must surmise
when we read Bill Reid and Robert Bringhurst’s version of “Raven Steals
the Light.”
Exploring the beginning of Reid and Bringhurst’s narrative helps us to
see the Yehl’s embodiment of the four qualities manifesting throughout
the story. Pansy Collison, in writing about Haida narratives, discusses
the power of language and story, “Language carries the ideas by which
a nation defines itself as a people. Language gives voice to a nation’s
stories, it’s mythos,” but she continues with the explanation, “Stories are
not just entertainment. They are power” (2010:26). Reid and Bringhurst’s
66 Part I. Haida Culture and History

(1996) narrative begins with evidence of the power of language that Collison

Before there was anything, before the great flood had covered the earth and
receded, before the animals walked the earth or the trees covered the land or
the birds flew between the trees, even before the fish and the whales and seals swam
in the sea, an old man lived in a house on the bank of a river with his only child, a
daughter. Whether she was as beautiful as hemlock fronds against the spring sky
at sunrise or as ugly as a sea slug doesn’t really matter very much to this story,
which takes place mainly in the dark.

We see the prologue, the setting of the narrative. There is the house, the
owner and his daughter. Commentary on the daughter is seemingly
important, but at this point, the darkness favors the setting and not the
daughter’s beauty. Had she been beautiful, then, it is certain, she would
have been Yehl’s focus, not the light. But the emphasis is stated in the final
line of the prologue mentioning the context of the story taking “place
mainly in the dark.” This is the transition necessary for the next section.

Because at that time the whole world was dark. Inky, pitchy, all-consuming dark,
blacker than a thousand stormy winter midnights, blacker than anything anywhere has
been since.

Darkness is emphasized in this short section. The picture is bleak and

black as noted in the extremes of storms in the winter and at midnight. Some
of the worst recorded storms in Canada have occured off the west coast of
Haida Gwaii, so the setting becomes very interactive for the Haidas as
they listen to the rest of the story. We are ready for some contrast which
the next sections provides:

The reason for all this blackness has to do with the old man in the house by the
river, who had a box which contained a box which contained a box which contained
an infinite number of boxes each nestled in a box slightly larger than itself until
finally there was a box so small all it could contain was all the light in the

So now, we have the crux of the story, the light. No mention is necessary of
how they could see anything or know anything given the lack of light. A
universe of such darkness is hard to imagine, but the focus is not the
universe, but the box that contains the light. This is Yehl’s entrance to the

The Raven, who of course existed at that time, because he had always existed and
always would, was somewhat less than satisfied with this state of affairs, since it led
Why Raven Stole the Light 67

to an awful lot of blundering around and bumping into things. It slowed him down
a good deal in his pursuit of food and other fleshly pleasures, and in his constant
effort to interfere and to change things.

Notice the Reid and Bringhurst use the generic ‘Raven’ to identify
the trickster instead of Yehl. It reflects the Bahktinian notion that the
presence of another language, in this case Haida, presents problems
(Bakhtin 1981:263). The monoglossic presentation eliminates the
imposing Haida term, thereby alleviating the need for the ‘other’ represented
by the presence of the Haida language. The audience may simply
imagine this to be an ordinary raven, and then impose their cultural
notions of what ravens can and cannot do. Reid’s use of Raven, though
accurately translatable, is not sufficient to address Yehl’s character. But
it is Raven’s well-being that whets his appetite for a change.
There are four references to Yehl’s nature mentioned in the passage. The
first is that he is eternal; then he is not happy with things as they are; thirdly,
the current state of affairs impedes his ability to please himself; and
finally, his creative/destructive character is mentioned in relation to his
habitual need to interfere or change things. Thus, the stage is set for Yehl’s
appetite to motivate his actions. With the light, he can see the food he wants
and thus he devises a way to steal the light. Becoming a hemlock needle that
is captured in a basket of water, he makes the daughter thirsty and she drinks
the water and also consumes the needle. Once inside the girl’s body, Yehl
becomes a boy and after birth, devises a plan to steal the light.
After a couple of false attempts, Yehl, as a boy, suspiciously feathered,
transforms back to his original form (some say he was white at this time)
steals the light, puts it in his and escapes through the enlarged smoke hole
in the ceiling of the house. Making his way through the small smoke hole,
he flies away in the sky, causing the brilliance of the light to shine
everywhere for the first time. Elated with the creation’s beauty, he flies
unaware that an eagle is after him. Noticing his foe, he tries to escape from
the eagle, dropping a piece of the light, which bounces off the mountains
and becomes the moon and stars. Still thinking he could fly faster than the
eagle, he continues toward the horizon until he is exhausted and finally lets
the last part of the light go which floats up to the clouds and becomes the
sun. This is the delusional aspect of the trickster, that as a raven, he
could fly faster than the eagle. The man, rather upset at his loss, seeing his
daughter is beautiful, is consoled at the loss of his treasure.
This brief overview of Reid and Bringhurst’s narrative reveals that Raven
steals light for a simple reason, to satisfy his appetite. His antics result in the
formation of the stars, sun and moon. All four aspects are present in Reid
68 Part I. Haida Culture and History

and Bringhurst’s narrative: Raven manifested destructive powers,

transforming ability, insatiable appetite and his silliness. Though we see
these aspects motivating Raven to steal the light, since it is bright and shiny,
Henry Geddes provides an even more precise reason for Yehl stealing the
Henry Geddes was one of the few remaining Haida elders fluent in
Haida and English. His knowledge of Haida mythology and history will
remain untapped for its richness. In one of the casual moments of Haida
novices interested in Haida language history, and stories, Geddes offered
this version of Yehl during an immersion camp in 1993.

Well anyways, I’ll make this kind of short, just in parts, in comes in little parts. It
was always dark. There was no daylight. So he was round up that way, and he
could see them getting lots of eulachons and he wanted some.

“Hey,” he said, “how about some eulachons?”

“Go on, go away! You’re always telling lies. You better go away.”

So then then he found out where they kept the moon-the that big round like that.
The wealthy ones had it. They had a big huge house. So, he had a daughter. So
Raven figured the only way he could get in there was to be born. So that’s how
he-I don’t know how he did it, but the young girl had a baby, and it was Raven.
And he grew rapidly. And as he got a little bigger he used to rolled it around. He
used to play with it.

Then he would sit and cry, yell and cry, “Ginaa. Ginaa Ginaa.” Ginaa means,
you know those big Indian houses built like that and in the middle they had
something come up like that, that’s where the smoke come out. They call that

So he, it was all closed in, and he cried all the time and he’s say

Ginaa all the time. So his mother said, “He wants that a little wider.”

He kept on, kept on. One day he started practicing flying with the light under his
wing. He kept on practicing until finally he knew he could get out. So he flew
out. So he went back up the river and he tell them people, he hollered at them,
he said “Now if you people give me eulachons I’ll give you day light.”

“Go on, go away! You’re always lying!”

“No,” he says, “it’s true. No.” So he says, “I’m going to show you- I’m going to
give you just a little bit of day light.” And he showed a little bit and the whole
place was light. And he put it away and it was dark again.
Why Raven Stole the Light 69

So everybody brought in oh loads after loads of eulachons-He couldn’t ever eat all
that up. So he flew down to where there were some rocks, sharp ones. So he gets
this big disk and he starts hammering away at it. And he broke it half. And he
breaks it in half, and he said, “Well...” he throws it and he said “this will be the
sun. And this one,” when he threw it, he said, “This one will be the moon.”

So after he gathered up all the crumbs, he threw that up there and he said, “this will
be the stars.”

So this is how this one goes that I know of. It’s not a very long one. This raven
story happens in stages. It happened at the Nass River. This raven story is the
Haida version of it... Yehl is the Raven. He is called Yehl.

This story, it ...I’ve heard so much of it. If one person tells that story, he starts
at night until late, late in the night then he quits starts again the next day. It
takes two days to tell the whole story. And maybe longer. So this is why it is in

If somebody ever tells you the whole story, he’s going to be the genius, yeah.

In the first paragraph, we find the motivation for Yehl’s thievery.

Eulachons. Eulachons are small, short-lived, anadromous smelts that can
be found from the southern Bering Sea to northern California,
approximately in the area corresponding to the coastal temperate rain
forest. They are a delicacy among the northwest coastal Indians, and the oil
that comes from these fish is prized among all the tribes for its taste and
utility for candles, Drew writes that though the Haida did not produce the
oil or catch the fish locally, they “traded with the Tsimshians for the
product of fish they didn’t have, the oolichan (1982:32). Collison also notes
that the oil has healing properties for maintaining general health (2010:79).
Naturally, Yehl would love these fish, thus making it the reason for his
transformation and subsequent actions.
The narrative reveals the untrustworthy nature of Yehl as the boys
comment on his honesty that he is always lying, a characteristic that
certainly is not worthy of emulation. The boys’ contention is that this flaw
of lying is a so habitual that it has come to be the accepted norm for
anything that Raven utters. It also shows the ability to recognize the
trickster at times, especially when his appetite rules his actions because he is
much easier to identify then. Geddes’ account does not reveal how he
becomes a boy, but simply that he does. In fact, as the Geddes flows with
the rest of the narrative, it seems inconsequential as to how Raven became
a boy, yet it still underscores the transformative power of the trickster,
which many refer to a shape shifting. It also explains Yehl’s modus operandi,
70 Part I. Haida Culture and History

that of complaining and crying. Certainly there would be parents in the

audience who could relate to the situation of an inconsolable child who sets
his or her own terms for consolation. Given the intensity of the cry and
complaining, the father must do something.
The narrative discloses the plan as the father enlarges the smoke
hole and Yehl eventually escapes with the light. Geddes then proceeds
to explain how Yehl tries to bargain for the eulachons by revealing just a
little bit of what he would give in exchange for some fish. The boys are
eager to swap and provide more fish than Yehl could ever eat, which
must be quite the amount given the insatiable nature of Yehl. He then
intentionally creates the sun, moon, and stars all for the price of some fish,
which we must infer he ate because the text does not explicitly tell us that
he consumed. But true to what the boys said, Raven lied and did not
give the light to the boys. Instead, his destructive nature combines with
the creative aspect and by breaking the light into pieces and throwing them
into the heavens, suns, moon and stars result.
As Geddes ends his account, he begins some metacommentary on the
story. He explains the frequency, “This story, it ...I’ve heard so much of it.”
Then he explains the context of the Raven cycle, “If one person tells that
story, he starts at night until late, late in the night then he quits starts again
the next day.” And further explains that “It takes two days to tell the whole
story. And maybe longer.” But the commentary is still not quite finished
and he then explains that the Raven cycle came in many parts that took a
long time, “So this is why it is in sections.” Just as the listener is thinking the
commentary is over, there is one more nugget left for Geddes to share, “If
somebody ever tells you the whole story, he’s going to be the genius,
yeah.” Bringhurst would concur with this summary as he translated part of
the Raven cycle himself (1999, 2002).
In summary, the light is not Raven’s main objective in this version,
it is the delectable eulachons. This is an alternative narrative from Reid and
Bringhurst’s account, yet it still displays trickster characteristics
consistent with creative/destructive nature when he breaks the light into
pieces and thus forms the sun, moon, and stars. In both accounts, the
term most commonly used is Raven rather than Yehl. Bakhtin argues that
heteroglossia recognizes that the other language is representative of alien
words from an alien tongue. The lack of use of heteroglossia in this story
perhaps reveals the intricate problems of translation and transmission
(1981:282), of keeping a term more recognizable: Raven rather than Yehl.
When we consider the issue of translation, first, and most important, is
that some words cannot be translated because the lexical item in the
Why Raven Stole the Light 71

ancestral language has no English equivalent. The use of the Haida term
Yehl also represents cultural difference and would force the reader beyond
the comforts of English into the Haida culture, and this may be why
Reid, Bringhurst and Geddes chose to use Raven. Lastly, the ancestral
language presence compels the reader beyond a simple interpretation by
incorporating an active participation in diversity (Bhaktin 1981:296), and
given the lack of prestige of Haida historically and presently, it is no
wonder that the English equivalent suffices.
Geddes’ account also reveals how Yehl becomes a boy, and then reverts
to being Yehl as part of the transformational skills of the trickster. His
account discloses how Yehl’s appetite motivates his actions since he wanted
to have some delicious eulachons. It is Raven’s reputation as a liar that
allows the boys to immediately recognize him, yet Raven still wants the
eulachons, and will stop at nothing to show the boys that he can be
relentless when it comes to fulfilling his appetite. It becomes a trade for what
is precious, light for fish, yet both are still part of Raven’s insatiable
appetites. Finally, it reveals the silliness that often accompanies such
endeavors, that Yehl is willing to give such a precious substance as
light, an enduring substance, for some temporal pleasure of food.
Given the nature of Yehl as a trickster, the reason why he stole the
light in both accounts reflects the insatiable appetite that governs much of
his experience. Not only does Yehl manifest his transforming ability, but his
appetite distorts his judgment and he willingly gives away an enduring
substance to satisfy some temporal craving. Thus, this narrative embodies
Yehl’s creative and destructive powers, transforming ability, and insatiable
appetites in his cunning efforts to secure the light, but it also exposes his
folly as he loses the light forever simply for short bout of gastric pleasure.
But he doesn’t care, he is too full of eulachons.
Part II

and Future
Chapter 6

Haida Language:
A Brief Overview

Since the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Haida has received a
considerable degree of attention. Scholarly investigations of Haida, from
geological surveyors to missionaries to linguists, have produced a vast
body of literature analyzing everything from Haida’s phonemic inventory
to its grammatical structure. George Dawson and Fraser Tolmie,
geological surveyors, compiled one of the earliest lists of Haida
vocabulary that they published in 1884 entitled Comparative vocabularies
of the Indian tribes of British Columbia, with a map illustrating distribution.
There are also bodies of work done by missionaries as they lived among
the Haida. Such work, according to Tomlin, “…can provide profound insights
into the intricate cultural encounters that often resulted as part of the complex
processes of colonization (2008:83). Charles Harrison’s missionary efforts
included many publications concerning Haida grammar (1895). He wrote
concerning his motivation that the

…principal object in writing this grammar is to afford assistance to my

successors in mission work amongst the Haidas, and those who may desire to
gain a knowledge of the language in order to benefit these Indians both
temporally and spiritually. (1895:126)

In keeping with his “principal object,” Harrison also published Haida

translations of parts of the Bible (mostly from the New Testament), such as
The Gospel according to St. John (1899) and The Acts of the Apostles in
Haida (1898). Tomalin noted that though the missionaries produced a
substantial body of work, it was largely ignored by contemporary
anthropological efforts to salvage the Haida language (Tomalin 2008:115).
At the turn of the century, John Swanton, under the tutelage of Franz
Boas, began an ethnographic study of the Haida (1905a) and published a
comprehensive body of work. His work included a grammar of Haida
(1911) as well as translated stories and songs from both the Massett (1908)
76 Part II. Haida Language

and Skidegate (1905b) dialects. Swanton’s collections and publications

contain by far the most information, history, ethnology, songs, and myths.
Since Swanton, there have been a number of substantial linguistic works
concerning Haida. The Alaska Native Language Center published a Haida
dictionary in the Kaigani dialect (Lawrence and Leer 1977). The dictionary
was a result of a collective need of the Haida community in Alaska. Haida
instructors and individuals studying Haida had

been asking for some kind of dictionary to help them get started, so as a first
effort at a unified Haida dictionary, we present here a preliminary list of many
common words and a few uncommon ones for the benefit of the beginning learner.

To date, there have also been four dissertations examining different

linguistic aspects of Haida. Daniel Anker reviews Haida kinship
terminology (1975) in his dissertation. Limiting his database to written
works from 1900–1974, Anker compiled, compared, and analyzed kinship
lexical morphology beginning with Swanton’s earliest published research.
Robert Levine’s dissertation (1977) concerns the Skidegate dialect.
Levine worked primarily with four speakers. He discusses phonology,
nominals, predicates, and particles, as well as analyzing Skidegate
narratives. Levine also discusses Haida in its areal context along Canada’s
northwest as well southeast Alaska and provides an index of affixes and
John James Enrico’s comprehensive dissertation examines the Massett
dialect’s phonology (1980). Part of his interest is comparative in nature, as
he states that “part of the work in Massett has been the reworking and
analysis of all of Swanton’s large and extremely valuable collection of
Massett material” (p. XIV). He then explains that his research “was done
with one goal being its possible use by the Massett people” (XIV). This
goal is rare because much of the research on Haida language usually
disregards any connection to or with the Haida community other than
the data they provide for the researcher.
Elizabeth Edwards (1982), author of the most recent study, analyzed The
Importance of Pragmatic Factors in Haida Syntax. Using a functional
approach, she argued that any analysis using only grammatical concepts
fails to account for Haida constituent order. Pragmatic factors such as
topic and information focus, Edwards argues, prove more effective in
determining Haida constituent order than purely syntactic or grammatical
Haida Language 77

Numerous articles have also been written on Haida grammar, including

Carol M. Eastman’s “Word order in Haida” (1979); Herman Karl Haeberlin’s
“Notes on the composition of the verbal complex in Haida” (1923); Joseph F.
Kess’ “Pronominal systems in Haida” (1974); and Robert J. Welsch’s “Haida
pronouns-Hydaburg dialect” (1975), just to name a few.
Originally classified as Na-Dene, the subject of Haida’s classification is
still controversial. Sapir, based on what he learned from Swanton and Boas,
assumed Haida, Tlingit, and Athabaskan had “important morphological, and to
a lesser extent lexical, resemblances” (1915:534). He explained the name of
the classification as compound of Dene meaning ‘people’ in the Athabaskan
languages and the element na, an old stem which also meant ‘people’ in
Tlingit and ‘house’ in Haida. “The compound term ‘Na- Dene’ thus designates
by means of native stems the speakers of the three languages concerned,” he
explained, adding “besides continuing the use of the old term ‘Dene’ for the
Athabaskan branch of the stock” (Sapir 1915:558).
Recent research and re-evaluation has generated a controversy with some
researchers wanting Haida to be reclassified as an isolate (see Levine 1979;
Campbell 1990). Levine has suggested that Sapir relied too heavily on Navajo
data for comparisons and that he had assumed relatedness to Tlingit and
Athabaskan based on methodological flaws (Levine 1979:171). He suggested
that if there is proof that Haida is Na-Dene, it has not been submitted.
Manaster Ramer, on the other hand, countered that it is too early to reject
Sapir’s classification and that it may be a matter of time before the evidence
will justify Sapir (Ramer 1996:210). There are thus two camps regarding this
issue: those who see Haida as Na-Dene (Sapir 1915; Hymes 1962) and those
see it as an isolate (Levine 1979; Campbell 1990).
According to his analysis, Swanton (1908:274) suggested that the
Haida phonemic inventory had a total of 46 different phonemes, 18 of
which were vowels. Sapir, “supplementing Dr. Swanton’s brief statement”
after only a few hours with Peter R. Kelly, a Skidegate Haida man, suggested
that Haida had 47 consonants (Sapir 1923:145). In his analysis of the
vowel system, Sapir suggested that there were “only three organically
distinct vowels” (1923:154) and two diphthongs (1923:156). Swanton’s
phonemic inventory sketch, rather than Sapir’s, ultimately became the
model for subsequent research.
Current Haida research, which also addresses the Haida phonemic
inventory, includes Enrico’s efforts to gather data for a new Haida
dictionary. Enrico suggests that the Skidegate dialect “preserves some of the
consonants lost in the northern dialects…Similarly, the Massett dialect
preserves certain consonants or skeletal slots that have been lost in the
78 Part II. Haida Language

Alaskan dialect” (Enrico 1994:3). He suggests that the Skidegate dialect is

the most conservative and states that this dialect will be first in the
dictionary because it provides insights regarding the lost consonant forms of
the northern dialect. He explains that the current simplified Haida
orthography results from consonant loss and a change from a tone system
in Canada (Haida Gwaii) to a pitch accent system in Alaska (Hydaburg and
Ketchikan) (Enrico 1994:3).
Concerning its morphosyntactic features, Haida has a subject-object-
verb (SOV) structure, or, depending on the scholar, an object-subject-verb
(OSV) structure. Swanton suggests that the verb “almost always stands at
the end of the sentence or clause” (1911:267). Swanton also suggested that
the word order is SOV for nominal constituents and OSV for pronominal
constituents. The first example from his collection seems to contradict his

K!iūsta gu Iłdī’nī na’gan.

End of trail(Town) at Iłdī’nī lived.
Iłdī’nī lived at Kiusta. (Swanton 1905b:15)

The next example also seems to contradict his observation, but upon closer
inspection, if the independent pronoun is considered nominal, it conforms to
the SOV structure.

La’hoa L! sūga sqā’djigAn

He them among was a brave man
He was a brave man among them. (Swanton 1911:277)

Edwards (1983) notes the confusion that results from traditional

analysis of subject and object concerning Haida word order and suggests
that contextual factors influence understanding Haida utterances. She
provides the following example for consideration,

Fred taanaay tiigaan

Fred bear killed
a. Fred killed the bear.
c. The bear killed Fred. (1983:150)

Edwards then explains that these two sentences (sentences b and d do

not have any bearing on our discussion here, thus, I included only a and c)
could be the answer to the question, “who killed the bear kill?” as well as
Haida Language 79

the question “who did the bear kill?” since both questions are represented by
the same utterance in Haida,

gissduu tanaay tiiaayan

who bear killed
Who killed the bear?
Who did the bear kill? (1983:151).

Thus, Edwards concludes that,

While discussions of constituent order in Haida in terms of the grammatical

categories Subject and Object are inclusive, the identification of the sentence-
initial constituent as the information focus allows us to explain the apparent
contradictions in word order proposed by Swanton. (Edwards 1983:156)

In another analysis, Eastman (1979) observes it has been accepted that

Haida has an OSV word order and provides her first example as evidence,

(1) chiin hl taagaang

fish I eat
I eat fish. (1979a:141)

Eastman also confirms Swanton’s observation (1911: 267) that when nouns
and pronouns are both used as subjects and objects, the pronouns usually
stand nearest to the verb. She provides examples, the first of which
demonstrates adherence to Swanton’s rule (the example number reflects
her numbering),

(2) xagyaa l daawaang

dog they have + present
They have a dog. (1979:142)

Thus, her analysis seems to confirm an OSV word order.

Edwards then provides other examples that challenge the classification.
These two examples provided here represent her evidence for an SOV
word order (the example numbers reflect her own numbering),

(15) yaalaay skaangway iisdang

the raven the stick take + present
The raven is taking the stick.
80 Part II. Haida Language

(19) nang iihlingas kiiksgaay taa’aasaan

the man the cake eat + directional + future
The man will go eat the cake. (Edwards 1979a:144)

Eastman then explains “that Haida is a topic-prominent language in

which a Sentence is analyzed as (Topic) + Comment” (1979:147). She
concludes that “Haida as a topic-prominent language may best be analyzed
as having no one basic order in terms of the order of meaningful elements
in sentences, although both an SOV and OSV order are common”
Levine, challenging the classification through closer structural analysis,
suggests that “the proper generalization is that the order of constituents,
in sentences containing person markers rather than nouns, is XSOV in most
cases” but he goes on to explain that “X includes indirect objects,
locational, temporal and adverbial material, embedded clauses and so on”
(1979:161). Though the argument continues, the final analysis is clearly
that Haida is verb final in structure, as Campbell notes (1990:1032).
Haida, like many other Native American languages, is currently at a
critical stage of possible language death. There are at present few fluent
speakers left in Skidegate and Massett. Only 15–20% of the elders (Report
of the Assembly of First Nations language and literacy secretariat, 1992:64,
73) are fluent. Of these speakers, nearly 95% are over 55 and are female.
There are no monolingual Haida speakers left.
Finally, the Haida instructors’ orthography, represented in the
transcripts, results from a modified orthography found in the Haida
Dictionary (Lawrence & Leer 1977) and in consultation with Enrico and his
research (1980; 1994). Concerning the Haida transcription, Enrico and
Stuart’s (1996:x-xii) orthographic notes are helpful in realizing
pronunciation. I have modified their chart (found in the LIST OF
SYMBOLS, p. vii) by adding descriptions and a modified IPA equivalent in
brackets [ ] after each description.
Chapter 7

Rethinking Native
American Language

As many linguists such as Elizabeth Brandt (1988), Paul Kroskrity (2009),

William Leap (1988) continue to work with and analyze First Nations/
Native American languages, the consensus opinion usually direly predicts
the loss of daily use for almost all of the extant indigenous languages.
First Nations is currently the term that is applied to the original
inhabitants of Canada, hence, they are literally the First Nations. For the
purposes of this chapter, I begin with the terms First Nations/Native
American but then to simplify, I incorporate Native American since the
terms and content are relevant and salient to both countries. Currently
Native American communities with linguists and other professionals
expend tremendous efforts at renewing, revitalizing, and restoring their
languages to everyday use. The model upon which much Native American
language renewal research is based, second language acquisition or second
language learning (henceforth-SLA/L), at first seemingly provides relevant
correspondence with the ensuing attributes, but I will argue that the SLA/L
models of characteristics do not apply to Native American language
acquisition/learning circumstances.
Reversing language shift and language loss are crucial issues in many
Native American communities. In Canada, First Nations communities
currently experience critical shift and loss. The 1991 census in Canada
reports disturbingly low numbers of fluent ancestral language speakers.
Historically, cultural opposition, enforced assimilation, government
exploitation, and missionization succeeded in reducing the use of many
Native American languages. These efforts not only strove to eliminate
Native American languages, but the culture of their speakers as well. The
main tool used in reducing and eliminating ancestral language use was
formal education within a strict English only setting. The residential
82 Part II. Haida Language

schools’ legacy encompasses not only the transition to a formal education

setting, but the systematic eradication of the culture of each First Nations
student (see Linda Jaine 1993)
Only within the last quarter of the twentieth century have the Canadian
and American governments implemented efforts to address the problem
of reversing language shift among its indigenous people. Currently, the
problem for the majority of the First Nations communities across Canada is
the absence of any speakers acquiring the ancestral language as a mother
tongue (Fourth Report of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs,
1990). Children are simply not learning their ancestral language. Lack
of community efforts exacerbates the problem, and more often than not
the main effort of salvaging Native American languages falls on the local
school board. The result is that many Native American students now
learn or study their ancestral language only as a second language within
a school context. The problem is that when Native American students
study a language in school, it usually stays in the school.
Reversing language shift is crucial, but a paradigm that recognizes the
limitations of SLA/L theories and methodologies in regards to Native
American indigenous languages is necessary. The characteristics of SLA/L
models have salient implications that demand rethinking the content and
context of what is happening on reserves and reservations of Native
American communities. In this paper, I provide a brief review of
research on North American indigenous languages and assess the
applicability of SLA/L characteristics upon current indigenous languages. I
conclude with recommendations to reconsider further research among
Indigenous communities apart from the SLA/L paradigm.

A Brief Historical Background

on Native American Languages

A very brief historical background of research and linguistic endeavors

among First Nations/Native Americans culminates in the early part of 20th
century when Franz Boas began to systematically document First
Nations/Native American languages (1911). His approach, as well as his
protégés, was to provide a grammar of the language in order to record the
tremendous intricacies that he assumed would be found in the languages
Rethinking Native American Language Revitalization 83

that were studied. The methodology provided a phonological, lexical, and

syntactical analysis as well as some narratives that were transcribed and
translated with a representative dictionary for reference, for example, John
Swanton, “Haida.” In Handbook of American Indian languages, Franz Boas
ed., 205–82.
The later work in the field then represented efforts at analyzing and
categorizing the languages into linguistic families in order to have a
speculative basis for understanding the diversity and dispersedness of the
languages. Two examples include Harry Hoijer, “Indian Languages of
North America” (1967); Morris Swadesh, “Indian languages of North
America” (1967), 91–95. The result was a body of work that looked at the
languages for the sake of classification and though a central part of the
research analyzed the similarities of the languages among First
Nations/Native American peoples, only a trace of actual language usage
was studied. The ensuing efforts confirmed the categorization of the
various languages that were studied, or explicated certain phonological,
lexical, or grammatical processes that verified or challenged the subsequent
classification of the language.
The current research has an ethnographic exposition of communication
approach that has resulted largely from the work of Dell Hymes (1962).
In this approach, the focus takes into account factors of the fields’
predecessors including the role of physical analysis and general
categorization, but also began to look at how language was then used in
the local community among the members of the community. Karl
Kroeber (1981), Paul Kroskrity (1986), and Dennis Tedlock (1983), to
name just a few, all exemplify the current trend of Native American
language research and exposition that focus on explication/usage of the
ancestral language in particular communities.
The ensuing trend also began to include the study of Native American
peoples learning English. The main model supporting the research of
indigenous communities learning English has usually been based on the
SLA/L model and as such, prescriptions for teaching and classroom
methodology conform heuristically to this model. While the research
uncovered important information, the SLA/L model is inappropriate for
many reasons.
In the next section, I explore some SLA/L claims and apply the to the
Native American language situations. I then offer an analysis that will
suggest a path for further research among Native Americans.
84 Part II. Haida Language

Applying 2nd Language Acquisition/Learner

Characteristics to Native Americans

There are many aspects of SLA/L that could be considered, but I want to
specifically look at the characteristics that usually accompany most SLA/L
research contexts. In this analysis, it is expedient to limit this discussion to
the two aspects of socio-psychological variables and environmental factors
in order to provide a basis for comparison. These two aspects govern much
of the SLA/L characteristics that scholars consider in their research.
The SLA/L research to date has had tremendous achievements in
understanding the SLA/L field, especially in regards to English as a second
language. Prominent research has provided the field with models that have
spawned further research and that continues to influence the current
thought and research in the field. The main contributors to the aspects
listed include Freeman & Long (1991); Gardner & Lambert (1972);
Schumann (1978, 1986). The following list provides sufficient
environmental and socio-psychological aspects that affect SLA/L which

1. Target language learners are foreigners

2. Intended length of residence
3. Age of arrival
4. Social distance
5. Enclosure
6. Social dominance
7. Similarities of cultures
8. Language of wider communication
9. Instrumental/integrative motivation
10. Communicative need

The list is broad, but is in no means exhaustive and simply serves to

elucidate the contrast of First Nations/Native American language situations.
It was within in this SLA/L paradigm that much of the work among
Native American communities originally constructed and the focus of the
work was how the students on the reservations/reserves were learning/
acquiring English. The subject of Indigenous student participation in the
classroom has had a great volume of attention including Dumont’s
research about Sioux and Cherokee classrooms (1972), John’s description
of the education of Navajo children (1972), and Wieczkiewicz’s analysis of
a reading program for Navajo students (1979). The focus of this research
sought to ascertain how Native American students were participating in
Rethinking Native American Language Revitalization 85

the American/Canadian School systems. The results of the studies based

on the SLA/L model and characteristics then provided the basis for the
research of Native Americans trying to learn their ancestral language as a
second language. Though this is where the research currently stands, very
little research combines the notions of Native student participation and
learning styles in regards to learning the ancestral language, but the efforts
have produced important information that will benefit a recontextualization
of the current paradigm. I would like to consider some of these SLA/L
characteristics in light of the peculiarities of Native American
circumstances and comment on the applicability of such a paradigm to their
First, the target language in most SLA/L contexts is usually the
wider language of communication of the country. Studies in Canada, for
example, looked at the immersion programs of Anglophones learning
French (for example, see Neufeld 1978:227–241). The target language,
French, was usually foreign to the student (though in Canada’s situation it is
one of the official languages, French is considered quite foreign outside
of Quebec except in small pockets of communities). The comparison of
the Native American ancestral language learning conditions reveals that
the Native Americans are neither immigrants nor foreigners. A situation
that is famous for the play on the term “foreigner” comes from England in
the time of the Angles and Saxons as they invaded the original inhabitants
of what is now England. The Anglos and Saxons—the invaders—called
the indigenous people “Welas” which meant foreigner. The “Welas”
inhabitants were eventually driven to the outskirts of the British Isles
currently known as Wales. Historically some Native Americans were
removed and displaced, but they could not be considered foreigners
according to this SLA/L model, thus this important aspect does not apply in
this situation.
The intended length of residence and age of arrival confirm the
“foreignness” of the second language learner (SLL) as both aspects clearly
imply that the learner is not from the area, has arrived at a certain age (not
birth), and may not necessarily intend to stay very long in the area. In
contrast, Native Americans have been here before anyone else, seem intent
on staying long term, and it is not too likely that any of them are likely
to exodus anytime soon.
The factor of social distance includes attributes that affect the second
language learners’ (SLL’s) perception of “(1) distance between themselves
and their countrymen in general, (2) distance between themselves and the
members of the target culture in general, and (3) distance between their
86 Part II. Haida Language

countrymen and the members of the target culture” (Acton 1979, qtd. in
Larsen Freeman & Long 1991:181). The aspect of enclosure, according to
Schumann (1978:86), refers to the environment of the SLL: Is s/he
surrounded by his or her own group? Or, do they speak only their first
language (different from the target language) in this community? The idea
of enclosure suggests that it is possible to be in an environment that
effectively functions as a sub community in a different language. With
many of the reserves and reservations, there is definitely an indigenous
culture that provides distance from the surrounding culture, but English is
the main language for most reserves/reservations and so there is a conflict of
cultures. The result is that the ancestral language suffers from disuse even
though there is an opportunity to use it in the community. There is social
distance from the Native American ancestral language even on the
reserve/reservation because of the dominance of English.
The social dominance aspect refers to the status of the SLL in the
society in which he is learning the second language. Schumann provides
three categories that suggest the SLL’s social status will be one of (1)
dominance, (2) non-dominance, or (3) subordinate, each having its own
influence on SLA/L. Schumann also suggests that the similarity of cultures
can foster negative impact on the SLA/L process. In most current Native
American SLA/L contexts, English is the dominant language and even
though the reserves/reservations provide an opportunity for the ancestral
language to be dominant, it leaves the Native American SLL in a
subordinate position. The blending of cultures through English also
provides the negative impact upon the learning the ancestral language
because the ancestral language is usually considered inferior or has a very
low status among the Native American people.
The final aspects concern the environment and the effect of motivation
upon learning the target language. The language of wider communication
is simply the language that everyone uses in the community or the country.
The integrative motivation suggests the SLL wants to identify with
another ethnolinguistic group, where as the instrumental motivation is
utilitarian in nature. These final aspects can have interesting application for
the Native American language situations, but only in rare circumstances will
the ancestral language have the distinction of being the language of
wider communication. The motivations are usually based upon factors that
do not include returning to the ancestral language of one’s people, thought
the integrative motivation can foster a sense of the application because
many Native Americans want to learn their ancestral language to
identify more completely with their history. The instrumental factor suggests
Rethinking Native American Language Revitalization 87

that there is an academic, economic, or social component that will benefit

from learning the second language, but with Native American ancestral
languages there is little such motivation for most people on the

A Closer Look at the Acculturation Model

The Acculturation Model suggests that there are psychological and social
variables that determine the ability to gain competence in a second
language. The model has been applied to many different situations and the
subjects of the application have been considered immigrants (Native
speakers of Spanish in Los Angeles; Japanese; students with/without prior
exposure to English; instructed/uninstructed learners; older/younger
learners) with varying intended lengths of residence. In this section, I
will employ the model to non-immigrant subjects, the Haida of Haida
Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands, northwest coast of British Columbia), and
the New Mexico Tewa.
The major tenet of the Acculturation Model suggests that acculturation
to the target language group is a salient factor in determining the
outcome in learning the target language. This factor considers two
different types of acculturation, observed by Larsen- Freeman and Long, the
first of which the learners are:

both socially integrated into the target language group and psychologically open
to the target language. The first factor means that they have enough contacts with
speakers for them to acquire the L2; the second means that the input to which these
contacts expose them becomes intake. In Type Two acculturation, learners are
socially integrated and psychologically open, but also consciously or
unconsciously wish to adopt the lifestyle and values of the target- language
group. (Larsen-Freeman & Long 1991:257–8)

The two different types of acculturation will be very important factors in

discussing the two tribes, as will be shown later. The variables that will be
incorporated in this comparison will be the social variables of dominance,
subordination, assimilation, preservation, enclosure, cohesiveness, size,
congruence, attitude, and intended length of residence. The affective variables
that will be considered include language shock, cultural shock, motivation, and
ego permeability.
88 Part II. Haida Language

Haida and Tewa Tribal Histories

The Haida are located on the islands they call Haida Gwaii, homeland of
the Haida, off the northwest coast of British Columbia and the southern
tip of Alaska. They have inhabited these islands for approximately 10,000
years (Johnston 1987:102–127). It has only been within the last one
hundred and fifty years that they have had sustained contact with the
Canadian Europeans. The extreme location of the islands have kept much of
the contact with the Canadian-Europeans to minimum until the formation
of the province of British Columbia in the 1860s, at which time all the
land was then suddenly “crown colony” which meant that the government
now laid claim to the all land regardless of the presence of numerous tribes.
This governmental colonization culminated in 1871 when British Columbia
became part of the British Dominion of Canada. At this point in Haida
history, the steady stream of contact with governmental geological
surveyors, merchants, and missionaries began.
The period of 1860–1890 in the Haida history is filled with
tremendous loss. During this period, their population of approximately
10,000 was devastated by a small pox epidemic that reduced the population
to less than ten percent of its original number to less than 800 people. It is
during this devastation that changes began that would alter the culture of the
Haida forever. The shamans were unable to deal with the onslaught of the
disease and the Haida were turning to western medicine to deal with the
problem, even the shamans recognized their powerlessness and conceded that
the doctors have greater power than they did to heal the Haida. It is also
during this period that the tribe was convinced of their need for Christ and
the remaining Haidas willingly accepted Christianity in light of the
shaman’s loss of power and the apparent provision of medical superiority
concerning the small pox epidemic (for an account of the earliest Christian
mission work among the Haida, see Collison, 1981).
This period culminates as the transition to English begins to take place
amongst the Haida. By the early 1900s, the church services which were
usually conducted completely in Haida (with translations of portions of the
Bible in Haida) began to decline in attendance, while the other services
which were completely in English (by the request of the Haida) had the
greater attendance. Both Blackman (1982) and Enrico (2003) discuss
attitudes concerning English among the Haida at the turn of the 20th century
and allude to the preference for English even at the beginning of that
century. The transition to English continued when the obligatory residential
schools were forced upon the Haida and the children were taken away
Rethinking Native American Language Revitalization 89

from their parent’s home and brought to the residential school enforced by
Canadian government edict.
It was common for the modus operandi of the boarding schools in the
U.S. and the residential schools in Canada to enforce an English only policy
that was strictly adhered to with swift corporal punishment for anyone who
spoke their own language. Morgan offers important insight to the
assimilative efforts as she noted, “The effect of schooling on language
use and maintenance cannot be overstated. The schools were arenas in
which young tribal members learned not only English but also the
accompanying language beliefs that consistently exalted English while
devaluing indigenous languages” (2009:98). Certainly, the school room
was not a place most Haidas wanted to speak at all, let alone English which
they were just beginning to learn.
The initial result of this teaching methodology was met with student
silence because of their lack of skills in English and the desire to avoid being
punished. The schools were segregated until the 1950s when integration was
finally allowed. The significance of this date marks the continual contact
with native English speakers who were not teachers or Haidas, even though
English had been the first language for many of the Haida since the turn of
the century.
Though the transition to English was a combination of the Haidas’
willingness for survival during the small pox epidemic, their interest in
trade, their acceptance of Christianity and enforced induction into the
residential schools, speaking Haida was maintained amongst a small
percent of the population who experienced residential schools during 1920s
until the 1950s. They are the ones who are now interested in the
revitalization of Haida amongst their children and children’s children. It is
estimated that less than twenty percent of the total current Haida
population of 5,000 can boast of knowledge of Haida, and of that
number only a modicum would consider themselves fluent in Haida
(Report of the Assembly of First Nations language and literacy secretariat
1992:64, 73).
The Tewa are descendants of the Rio Grande Pueblos whose
numbers at the first complete census taken in 1680 had the population of
approximately twenty communities amounting to 25,000 persons. In the
years before the census, there were constant battles of Spanish resistance
amongst the Tewa that culminated in an insurrection in the same year of
the census in which the Tewa killed or drove out the Spanish from their
area temporarily. The persistence of the Spanish eventually overpowered the
resistance. It was mainly through the effort of the Franciscans, who were
90 Part II. Haida Language

intolerant of the Tewa cultural practices and sought to eliminate the

“idolatrous and pagan” customs, that the Tewa were taught Spanish and
Catholicism (Dozier 1956:146–57). The Franciscans did not learn or try to
learn the Tewa language and implemented physical punishment to anyone
who did not attend religious services and also punished the Tewa for
indulging in their own ceremonial dancing.
The contact ultimately resulted in the Tewa becoming a bilingual
community of Spanish and Tewa. But there was a very sharp distinction
between the two cultures in daily life. The Tewa managed to keep much
of their cultural practices despite of the tremendous pressure to forsake
their customs. They merely assented to the form of the Spanish
Catholicism and kept the important elements of their own culture separate
from what they were forced to assimilate into their lives. They would speak
Spanish only when necessary and would refer to the locations by the Tewa
names instead of Spanish. The interesting factor of their bilingualism is
the Tewa resistance to incorporate only a few loan words into their own
language. Though many new concepts of Spanish or Mexican descent are
prevalent amongst the Tewa, they are subjected to the Tewa process of
word building and are not referred to by the Spanish terms but by the
newly formed Tewa terms.
Today, the Tewa are essentially a trilingual community numbering
approximately 4,500, and have added English to their repertoire of Tewa
and Spanish. But even in this modern setting the Tewa are still resistant to
code switching. The resistance stems from the desire to keep the languages
separate and with the repertoire of two languages, the tendency to mix the
language is met with disdain. Some have considered this resistance as
“extreme ethnocentrism” but as Kroskrity explains that, “the dominant
ideology of the Arizona Tewa has promoted the production and
reproduction of a repertoire of languages that offer critical resources for
providing multiplicity while maintaining maximal distinctiveness” (2000).
What is important to the Tewa is clear boundaries of Tewa identity, and
to maintain Tewa identity, code switching and linguistic borrowing is
Historically, it is interesting to note that though the Tewa have been
through two periods of enforced assimilation (Spanish earlier, and now,
English), they still maintain their native tongue with tremendous passion.
Though Tewa has evidence of borrowing from Spanish and English, when
in sacred settings, it is avoided passionately (Kroskrity 2000:337).
Rethinking Native American Language Revitalization 91

Application of the Acculturation Model

The first variables to consider are dominance and subordination in which

we observe that both the Haida and the Tewa are basically in a subordinate
position. The difference between the Haida and the Tewa is that the Haida
were willing recipients or at least were not resistant to their subordinate
position. The Haida were losing confidence in aspects of their own culture
as the evidence of disregard for the shamans and the openness to western
medicine reveals. The Haida also had a tremendous market of trade that
had begun and the Haida disposition for wealth and materialism furnished
their willingness to be subordinate to the dominance of the Canadian-
European culture. The Tewa were not willing to be religiously or
politically subordinate and their history of resistance and wars, as well as
their tenacity to hold on to their customs regardless of affliction, testify to
their unwillingness to submit to the dominance of the Spanish military
and Spanish Franciscans.

The variables of assimilation and preservation are problematic for both tribes
because in both their histories there are situations in which neither tribe wanted to
be subjected to enforced enculturation (becoming Canadian or American-speaking
English accepting the western way of life). For the Haida, it was during the
residential schooling (after the epidemic period when the Haida were willing to
give up elements of their culture that was seen as invalid) that much of the
assimilationist efforts were implemented with extreme rigor that resulted in a
strict enforcement of an English only policy. As the formal schooling was in
progress, the Canadian government banned potlatching amongst the coastal
tribes, the missionaries began to destroy the totem poles, which were perceived to
be idols, and the children were not allowed to speak their own language. The result
was that English became the preferred language because of the negative
association with the Haida culture. All that was Haida—language, history, and
culture—was undercut constantly with physical and psychological punishment
when Haida was spoken or when Haida cultural practices were attempted.
Preservation of any aspect of Haida culture or language was met with constant
punishment and degradation in the residential schools (for example, see Collison

For the Tewa, assimilationist efforts strengthened the Tewa’s desire to

preserve their language and cultural practices. Despite the punishments
meted out upon them, they would continue with a surface compliance, but
they were merely compartmentalizing their associations of Spanish
dominance and covertly kept their cultural practices. The Franciscans
destroyed every element they considered pagan or idolatrous in the Tewa
culture, but they could not destroy the Tewa language. The Tewa’s open
92 Part II. Haida Language

resistance prior to being dominated and being put under subjection to the
Spanish changed into a secret resistance by becoming bicultural and
bilingual with strong aversion to any intermixing of the cultures. The Tewa
were compliant to the assimilative efforts of the Spanish, but they also held
on to their own culture. Preservation was a priority for the Tewa for reasons
that Kroskrity suggests is based upon the relation of language and identity.
The factors of enclosure, cohesiveness, and size, reveal interesting
findings when applied to these two tribes. For the Haida, all three elements
are present, but their size is the factor that has the greatest salience in
these variables. The Haidas were fearful of decreasing since they were
recovering from the small pox epidemic and those that remained sought
western medicine and help to maintain their numbers. The other two
factors are present, as mentioned, but due to the epidemic, the elements
that would have contained the Haida in enclosure and cohesiveness were
disregarded in order to seek help, literally for their survival.
The Tewa also have all three variables present, but in their case the
factor of greatest salience is their cohesiveness. Their size at the time of
the assimilation was significant, but it was their identity as Tewa and their
tenacious love for their culture that resisted the efforts to wipe out their
customs. They did become bilingual, and they were also practicing
Catholicism, but they maintained a separate allegiance to their own
language and practices. The element of enclosure was a positive force in
the Tewa’s effort to maintain their language and customs, but their
enclosure could not result in complete resistance to Spanish because they
were also dominated by and into assimilation of the Spanish language and
The social variables of congruence and intended length of residence
are factors that both the Haida and Tewa have in common. Both tribes are
extremely different from the cultures to which they are subordinate. The
Haida believe in reincarnation and have a host of powerful beings they
attribute their existence to. The Tewa enjoyed their own version of a
holy place; their kiva served as the locus in which strenuous rituals and
prayers were performed for acceptance by the spirits (Kroskrity 1992).
Aside from the religious differences, there are many cultural differences as
well, including the political structure of the community, marriage practices,
kinship practices, and rites of passage for boys and girls into men and
women. Both tribes are similar in their intended length of residence: they
were there first, and they had no plans to leave.
The final social variable considered, attitude, reveals the greatest
difference for the two tribes. The attitude of the Haida exemplified a
Rethinking Native American Language Revitalization 93

positive willingness to English at first, and it was not until the forced reform
schooling that the Haidas’ attitude reversed, but by then English was
already the dominant language amongst them. They were unable to resist
the swift transition to English that resulted and the process of language death
nearly eliminated the Haida language completely. The Tewa were resistant
from the start and did not want to have anything to do with the Spanish. It
was only when they were unable to continue their resistance that they
resigned themselves to the Spanish language and Catholicism, but they also
maintained their own language and practices.
The variables of language shock and culture shock are similar to
both tribes. The ability to speak in the target language was extremely
important to both the dominant cultures and measures of physical
punishments were implemented to ensure the demise of their mother tongue
and facilitate the use of the target languages. Thus the effect of language
shock must be seen as an element, which was not allowed by the
dominating culture. Both tribes were eventually affected greatly by culture
shock and it’s interesting that the usual factor of being a foreigner (to
experience culture shock) is not an element for either tribe. The culture
shock resulted in the loss or restriction of participating in their own cultural
practices and then being forced to practice a foreign culture’s customs
without understanding its historical or present significance.
The factor of motivation is similar for both tribes: they wanted to
survive. This desire for survival resulted differently in the Haidas’ situation
since they were initially interested in surviving the epidemic, then the trade
that provided tremendous wealth motivated them. For the Haida it was a
survival motivation that provided the impetus of acquiring English. The
Tewa also had a survival instrumental motivation in which they were
forced to assimilate the Spanish culture, but the Spanish customs and
religion were kept separate from their own maintained language and
practices. The Tewa were not interested in becoming part of the Spanish
culture, though they resigned themselves to assimilation, they still
preserved their own culture and language.
The final variable considered is ego permeability. It is apparent that the
Haida had a less rigid attitude and a greater openness (less inhibited) than
the Tewa. The Haidas’ ego- permeability has its roots in their willingness
for survival, where as the Tewas’ resistance ultimately was broken and then
turned unwillingly to a survival mode as well. The factor of disinhibition
applies more to the Tewa who were not open to assimilating to the
Spanish language or religion.
94 Part II. Haida Language

The social and psychological factors both play an important

understanding of the two tribes’ ultimate acquisition of the target language.
The greatest difference of the two tribes concerns the dynamics of their
motivation and attitude. For the Haida, they were willing to assimilate for
various reasons (economics, medical, and survival), which ultimately had a
positive outcome on both the social and psychological variables. The
Tewa were unwilling to assimilate and resisted as long as possible, and
when they could no longer resist, they resigned themselves to a surface
compliance while covertly keeping their own cultural practices. The result
of their unwillingness negatively affected the majority of the variables. There
were variables (dominance, subordination, enclosure) that both tribes had
representation in, but the difference was the willing attitude of the Haida
versus the unwillingness of the Tewa.


The greatest factors for both tribes concerns motivation and attitude. The
final analysis for both tribes is that for the Haida, they ultimately acquired
English as their first language. They were openly willing to learn English
before the forced residential schools and adopted English as their first
language. The Tewa, despite their resistance or their unwillingness,
eventually became bilingual. The negative factors in the variables only
reveal the motivation and attitude of the Tewa, which did not ultimately
keep them from learning and acquiring Spanish. The Haidas began with a
positive attitude and an integrative motivation that resulted in acquiring
English and now have it as a first language. The Tewa, despite their
resistance and unwillingness, eventually adopted Spanish.
The salience of this reflection concerning SLA suggests it is important to
review some other factors that have great bearing on the analysis. The fact
that the immigrants in both situations have the target language provides
an interesting twist for the model. The assimilation, then, is to the
dominant language (Spanish for the Tewa and English for the Haida) of the
immigrants who had great impact on the changes of the religious and
political order. But the result is interesting when viewed from the
perspective of this model, namely that both tribes acquired the language,
though the Tewa were vigorously resistance and had a negatively hostile
attitude the Spanish. It is not surprising that the Haida acquired English,
but the Tewa’s resistance and attitude should indicate that Spanish would not
have been acquired.
Rethinking Native American Language Revitalization 95

Logically, according to the Acculturation Model, the Tewa should not

have acquired Spanish. But the historical context and dominance of Spanish,
with the implementation of physical punishment, play an important role in
the Tewa’s acquisition of Spanish. Enforced assimilation through
punishment, psychologically and/or physically, is not part of the
Acculturation Model, but its impact cannot be underestimated in the role of
acquiring Spanish in the case of the Tewa.
This comparison suggests that SLA/L theory falls short when examined
and applied to Native American contexts either past or present. It is
unmistakable that a new way of thinking about language revitalization is

Ancestral Language Acquisition/Learning

With the SLA/L model characteristics’ discrepancy that I have described, it is

essential to provide a framework that will nourish further understanding as
well as a foundation that encompasses the particular needs of the First
Nations/Native American language situations. I propose that a new thinking
is necessary concerning the categorization of the First Nations/Native
Americans in the SLA/L camp. Though some characteristics are relevant,
most of the characteristics do not validate the uniqueness of Native
American culture within Mainstream American or Canadian culture. Nor
does SLA/L theory address Native Americans having to relearn their
ancestral language as is the case of many Native Americans who are
finding themselves trying to renew the daily usage of their mother’s or
grandmother’s ancestral language. Collison confirms the language renewal
difficulty in regards to the Haida language by acknowledging there is
still “plenty of work” (1994:1, 6).
The following provides final support for reconsidering the current
SLA/L model that is applied to First Nations/Native Americans. It is not
necessary to look again at the areas that were already mentioned that
would sanction this new classification; rather, I will provide support
beyond the lack of cohesion of the SLA/L characteristics that have been
expounded here so far. First, much of the patterns of speaking in the
ancestral language have been carried over and continue in the First
Nations’/Native Americans’ use of English. Important metalinguistic
aspects that would be important factors in ancestral language learning
including turn taking, narrative pauses, narrative form, appropriate social
speech requirements (such as kinship or elder respect), etc. that come
96 Part II. Haida Language

from the ancestral language are already present in the English that
Native American students currently speak. Present also are the factors
of the language heritage, geographical familiarity and preeminence that
are intricately associated with learning the ancestral language. Finally,
what has received much attention is learning and participation styles, but
without regards to learning ancestral languages.
This is not as extensive list, yet it amply covers crucial aspects of
language learning that most Native students encounter when learning their
language. Though Native American language renewal efforts are lacking in
a current model that would provide a relevant focus or impetus for salient
research, I suggest that it is necessary to seriously reconsider the current
SLA/L categorization of language situations of Native Americans learning
their own language as a second language.
The uniqueness of the Native American situations provides many
opportunities to observe, reflect, and synthesize how such situations are
different. What is necessary is for the old thinking and the old model
(which has produced meager results concerning the language status among
Native Americans) to pass the torch onto a model that is culturally relevant
and that provides a solid foundation to foster research. I propose,
therefore, a new and relevant category called Ancestral Language
Acquisition/Learning (ALA/L). ALA/L has within it essential relevance that
includes social and psychological aspects that are prevalent in much of the
Native Americans language renewal efforts. The ALA/L model will
provide that much needed spark to bring a new fire to the field and will
indeed be appropriate in all Native American language renewal efforts.
Nancy Richardson confirms the need for this new approach. Richardson’s
tribe, Karuk, has only five fluent native speakers/elders and in her address at
the Native American Language Issues Institute 1994 conference she
concluded that for her people, “most of the stuff in SLA doesn’t apply
to us, but we use what is useful.”


The research of Native American languages from the early work of Boas to
the current work of many scholars provides important information and
results that have been secured, analyzed and published. Though much of
the information is not very beneficial to the Native Americans without
specific training in linguistics, there is nevertheless a body of data that has
been secured and recorded. The advent of SLA/L research sought to provide
Rethinking Native American Language Revitalization 97

information relevant to understanding the processes of Native Americans

in acquiring English even though Native American people do not fully
conform to the SLA/L models and characteristics upon which it is based.
Furthermore, the SLA/L models’ characteristics fall especially short when
applied to Native American people who are in the process of learning their
ancestral language as a second language. This was evident in the application
of the Acculturation Model to the Haida and Tewa communities which
resulted in very little coherence.
It is, therefore, necessary for current research to forge itself in such a
manner that provides a consistent foundation in a modified SLA/L theory
that adequately describes the historical setting and provides a basis that
enhances current and future research focused on First Nations/Native
American language acquisition and learning.
This phenomenon must be categorized separately from the SLA/L camp
and be distinguished as Ancestral Language Acquisition/Learning (ALA/L).
The categorization is not one that merely separates the Native Americans
for the sake of separation. The distinction will effectively provide
relevant understanding of unique situations where indigenous students are
learning a language that was once their ancestors’ first language. Finally,
this divorce from the SLA/L paradigm will also advance research with
results applicable to all Native American peoples seeking to renew the
use of their ancestral language.
Chapter 8

Linguistic Strategies
Encountered at a Haida
Immersion Camp


Many First Nations’ people currently find themselves in critical stages of

language death concerning their ancestral language. Many communities
around the world face the possibility language death. Nettle and Romaine
use the term “dying” and “death” in regards to languages on the verge of
complete loss. They explain that though languages are not biological
entities, the terms of death and dying are appropriate in describing what
occurs around the world. The authors then ask a rhetorical question
regarding justification for these terms, and then provide their answers:

After all, languages are not living things that can be born or die, like
butterflies and dinosaurs. They are not victims of old age and disease. They
have no tangible existence like trees or people. In so far as language can be said to
exist at all, its locus must be in the minds of the people who use it. In another
sense, however, language might be regarded as an activity, a system of
communication between human beings. A language is not a self-sustaining entity. It
can only exist where there is a community to speak and transmit it. (Nettle &
Romaine 2000:5)

If the community does not speak and transmit the language, the
language is in danger of dying and, eventually, becoming part of a long
list of dead languages (Grenoble & Whaley 2005; Hinton, Vera & Steele
2002:xiii). Ultimately, the crux of language loss in any community is in the
lack of use and lack of transmission of their language to the next generation.
The progression of language death includes stages of contact with
another language, an intermediate stage of bilingualism, and then a shift to
the new language which then dominates the community. Eventually the
ancestral language succumbs to the presence and use of the language of
100 Part II. Haida Language

wider communication. At times the shift may be voluntary, or it may be

forced. Nettle and Romaine note that, “Where voluntary shift occurs, it can
be gradual, with the incoming language replacing the indigenous one over
a period of decades, or several hundred years. The indigenous language
tends to disappear from some situations before others” (2000:91). The
gradual nature of the language shift, as Fishman also notes, reveals that the
use of the indigenous language simply decreases in all domains of daily
usage until there are no more places, occasions, or reasons to speak the
indigenous language. K. David Harrison refers to this phenomenon as
being crowded out by the language with more speakers (2008:5).
For the Haida, a small percentage, 5–10%, of elders are still fluent in
Haida (Collison 2010:147; Enrico 2005; Towards rebirth of First
Nations languages: 1992:64, 73; Krauss 2005). In the last twenty years,
the efforts to revitalize the language within the Haida community has
intensified with regard to the number of fluent Haida speakers still alive.
The reality that soon most of the fluent speakers will be gone has
motivated both documentation (Breinig 2009:109; Enrico 2005; White
2006) and revitalization efforts (Collison 1994:6; Jones 2009:1; Lockyer
2009:4; White 2008). One of the many efforts at maintaining Haida at
began within the last few decades includes teaching Haida at the elementary
school level to the seventh grade. Another effort incorporates elders and
language apprentices in a Haida language immersion camp setting.
Immersion camps, camps focused on learning a particular language, are
becoming very popular among First Nations and American Indians. It is
reasonably assumed that the camp participants will espouse various
ideologies of language and that they will implement various language
learning and teaching strategies throughout the duration of the camp as well.
There is an important distinction between first language and second language
acquisition, and Chandrasekarm, in regards to first language acquisition,
states that normal “children, regardless of their country of origin, race or
other factors acquire the language to which they are exposed; they learn by
interacting with their parents or primary care givers without any explicit
external tutoring” (2008:430). But second language acquisition among
Native Americans and First Nations communities is very different from the
process of learning a first language (Austin 2008; Fishman 1991; Grenoble &
Whaley 2005; Krauss 2005; Nettle & Romaine 2000).
In this chapter, I will look at the participants’ interaction of a Haida
language immersion camp to provide evidence of such ideologies as well
as linguistic strategies employed by the elders and students. I will provide
an analysis of audio taped interaction that exemplifies the elders’ linguistic
Linguistic Strategies Encountered at a Haida Immersion Camp 101

ideology (Kroskrity 1992, 2009; Whorf 1941); the presence of

clarification (Ochs 1988; Schieffelin 1990) combined with apprenticeship
(Lave & Wenger 1991; Goffman 1959; Rogoff 1990), and the presence
of politeness (Brown & Levinson 1987), all constantly manifested
throughout the duration of the immersion camp.
Linguistic ideologies, according to Woolard and Schieffelin “envision and
enact links of language to group and personal identity, to aesthetics, to
morality, and to epistemology” (1994:55–6) and “is a much needed bridge
between linguistic and social theory” (72). Clarification is a very important
aspect of any interaction and is governed by factors of culture, gender, and
even grammar. As the need for clarifying ensues in conversation, cultural
aspects guide that clarification, often within the boundaries of grammar and
gender. Politeness also follows a very important pattern of cultural
boundaries with a wide spectrum of respect. This chapter will address how
Haida immersion camp participants instantiate particular cultural patterns of
clarification and politeness that reveal the linguistic ideologies they hold.

Camp Background

The Haida immersion camp, planned originally for the summer of 1994, but
due to the insistence of April Churchill, the grantee, the Alaskan Parks
Board released the funds earlier. Churchill’s argument included the reality
that the elders that targeted for participation may not be alive the following
summer and thus, it was important to engage them in language maintenance
and teaching activity as soon as possible. Her argument persuaded the
Alaska Parks Board to release the grant earlier than the original date of
distribution. During the winter of 93/94, five Haida elders died, one of
who was nearly 100 years old, and another was a participant in the
immersion camp, thus Churchill’s prophetic words warranted the earlier
distribution of the money.
The participants of the camp were a group of six fluent elders, one of
who was male (81), the youngest of who was in her late 50s, and the
eldest was 85. There were fourteen other participants of varying Haida
proficiencies, six teenagers from 14–19, four females and two males; two
pre-elders (elders-in-training), a male and female, who were in their mid
40s; and the final group consisted of six mid 20s to mid 30s’ persons,
three males and three females. All participants were of Haida descent, and all
were at the camp to teach or learn Haida.
102 Part II. Haida Language

The camp occurred at Tulung Stung, a traditional Haida dwelling

site in the northwestern most location of Haida Gwaii, islands of the Haida
(Blackman 1982:23), in British Columbia, Canada. It happened from
August 23 to September 2, 1993. The elders arrived by helicopter into the
camp, and the rest flew by plane to Kuista, “the town at the end of the trail”
(Swanton 1909:281), and had to hike anywhere from 25 minutes to 90
minutes, depending on whether the tide was in. If the tide was out, it was
possible to walk on the beach (approximately 25 minutes walking time), if it
was in, then it was necessary to hike and climb along the craggy cliffs and
hills (approximately 90 minutes of hiking, climbing, walking, and resting).
The original concept for the camp was that it would be a complete
immersion in Haida, but the reality of a majority of non-fluent Haida
speakers and only a minority of fluent speakers quickly established the
schedule that would eliminate English at designated times rather than
completely. The schedule allowed the elders to present historical
narratives, traditional basket weaving from gathering the spruce roots to
the finished product, traditional narratives and individual time with all the
participants. Certain meals were also designated as NO ENGLISH, which
were quiet at first, but which ultimately provided focused Haida interaction in
dealing with food.
The elders were aware of the documentation efforts and agreed to being
recorded throughout the camp. In the following section, I will provide
transcripts and analyses of the interaction that reveals the presence of the
elders’ linguistic ideology, the role of clarification during the process of
apprenticeship, and the linguistic strategy of politeness throughout the
duration of the camp.
There are three portions of transcripts that I will use for my analysis:

(A) Is a student (student) with an elder (Elder);

(B) is the same elder with a different student (novice);
(C) is the same student (novice) with the junior elder (Elder B);
All transcripts serve the purpose of contrastive/comparative analysis, and
access to various aspects of the camp’s interaction. I have chosen to
number the transcript sequentially for the purpose of this analysis even
though the sequences are not necessarily sequential. A note concerning the
transcription and orthography of the Haida reveals a close similarity to
English with the difference’s being:
Linguistic Strategies Encountered at a Haida Immersion Camp 103

1. /q/ is a voiceless velar fricative (Enrico 1980: 18–19)

2. /’/ represents a glottal stop (Sapir 1923:145);
3. /x/ is a glottal or laryngeal fricative similar to the ultimate sound in
the southern German pronunciation of “Ich” (Enrico: 1980: 18–19;
Sapir 1923: 147–148);
4. A voiced alveolar implosive or affricate /dl/ and its voiceless
counterpart /tl/ (Enrico 1980: 14–15);
5. /o/ represents a guttural presence compared to the /o/ which is
“plain” according to the Haida elder.

Anything in [ ] represents indistinguishable words or questionable hearing

of the words. The arrow “>” marks the point of interruption. The use of
colons (:) provides a lengthening of the phoneme


Elder and Student

The context of the first part of the transcript is that the student has a
poem translated for him by the eldest female elder. The student is
verifying her translation of the poem with the only male elder attending the
camp. As the transcript begins, the elder has heard the poem and seeks to
hear it once more.

001 Elder can you say it slow again right now?

002 student okay, ot
003 Elder ah just a moment ah
004 ——— what are you actually talking about
005 ——— I, I, I don’t understand it,
006 ——— that’s why I’m>
007 student okay, let me see
008 ——— where’s my other one
009 ——— I’m talking about the eagle
010 ——— that sits upon the rocks>
011 Elder oh, uh huh
012 Student you know>
013 ———- ot kwa ingut qowan>
014 elder yeah, ot
104 Part II. Haida Language

015 student ot, ot

016 elder ot, say it kind of plain
017 ——— you, you say it too low
018 student say it again
019 Elder ot
020 Student ot
021 Elder ot, you see it’s kind of plain
023 ——— when I say it>
024 Student ot
025 elder you say it, uh uh..
026 ——— you say it
027 ——— but it seems like
028 ——— it is spread out more
029 student ahhh, ot>
030 elder you know so it uh,
031 ——— it’s, it’s, it’s not plain
032 student um hmm
033 elder like I say
034 ——— ot
035 student ot kwa ingut qawa
036 elder alright that’s good
037 student ot kwa ingut qawa
038 elder say it over
039 student ot kwa ingut qawa
040 ———- kawa
041 elder say it over
042 ——— ot
043 student ot
044 elder kwa
045 student kwa
046 elder ingut
047 student ingut
048 elder qawa
049 student qawa
050 elder ingut
051 ——— means on top
052 student um hmm
053 elder sitting on top
054 student um hmm
055 ———- ot kwa ingut qawa
Linguistic Strategies Encountered at a Haida Immersion Camp 105

056 elder qawa

057 student qawa
058 elder qawa
059 ——— means sitting down
060 student okay, and then
061 ———- las ananu qowan
062 elder la sanu qowang
063 student sitting alone>
064 elder yeah
065 ——— la sanu qowang>
066 student la asanu>
067 elder say it over again>
068 student las
069 elder sanu
070 student la sanu
071 elder qowang
072 student qowan la
073 elder sanu
074 student la sanu
075 elder qowang
076 student qowan
077 elder alright
078 ——— qowang qowang
079 student qowan
080 elder not
081 ——— qowan qowan
082 ——— means, uh when you see a
083 ——— qowan
084 ——— it sound like
085 elder that the eagle’s laying egg>
086 student (laughs)
087 elder (laughs too, though slower than the student)
088 ——— you see a
089 ——— qowan
090 ——— it comes pretty close to qowan
091 ——— qowan means egg>
092 student so what’s the right word
093 elder qowang
094 student qowang
095 elder qowang
106 Part II. Haida Language

096 ——— sitting down you see>

097 student qowang [alright] qowang
098 elder sitting down and uh
099 ——— it’s a big difference.
100 student sitting down and laying an egg>
101 elder and laying an egg, yeah

The next section of the transcript has the same male elder (Elder) with a
different student (novice). The context of this portion of the transcript is
that the elder is now correcting a speech for the student, it is an actual
formal speech that the student is writing and preparing for the culmination
of the camp. The student, referred to as “Novice” in this segment, will also
appear in the final portion of the transcript as well.

102 Elder It’s got to be in sentences

103 Novice di u yakun gagun
104 elder di yaku jin gagun
105 ——— just the same like almost like gage
106 ——— you know ga
107 novice gagun
108 elder gagun yeah
109 novice e’ di u yaku jin>
110 elder jin
111 novice ga>
112 elder ga>
113 novice gun>
114 elder alright, keep on saying the same thing over> again
115 novice di u yaku jin gagun
116 elder that’s better, that’s better
117 novice di u jyaku jun gagun
118 elder that’s right, that’s right
119 novice di u yaku jin gagun
120 ——— di u yaku jin gagun

In this segment, the same student (novice) is now with junior elder. The
context of this portion is that the student (novice) is verifying her speech
with the youngest elder in the camp. An equipment malfunction in taping
during the sessions results in the random breaks in the recording. The
amount of the time lost during the break seemed to be less than two
seconds, not much, but sufficient to acknowledge.
Linguistic Strategies Encountered at a Haida Immersion Camp 107

121 elder B kil lagung

122 novice kil lagung
123 elder B no, you’re over here>
124 novice um hmm
125 elder B lagung
126 ———- is that [where/what] you did this morning?
127 novice um hmm
128 elder B let me see that-
129 ———- di kil la la::gung>
130 novice di>
131 elder B [here] thanking me for helping you
132 ———- di gudung klats hl dung hahl
133 ———- klats kil lagung
134 ———- dung klats kil lagung
135 ———- di gudung klats dung ahl kil lagung>
136 novice di gudung klats dung ahl kil lagung
137 elder B hmmm, let’s see
138 ———- kil lagung
139 ———- that’s it
140 ***Break in recording***
141 elder B it seems like something’s wrong
142 ———- gyu sinu skits
143 ———- because it seems like you want to know right now
144 ———- and then we put that in the past tense
145 ———- gyu sinu skits gung
146 ———- gyu sinu skits gung
147 ———- yeah, let’s put the ‘g’ there (( on the paper))
148 ———- instead of that ‘d’
149 novice uh huh
150 elder B gyu skits gung
151 ——— gung gu sinu
152 novice ‘g’ here ((points at her paper))
153 elder B umm hmm
154 novice gyu skits gung gu sinu
155 ——— gyu gyu gyu skit gung gung gung
156 ***Break in recording****
157 elder B you see some of the things
158 ———- they put down
159 ———- they only worked on this dictionary
160 ———- a very short period of time
108 Part II. Haida Language

161 ———- so some of the things

162 ———- they say is awkward
163 ———- and [we]
164 ———- we don’t say
165 ———- really say
166 ———- your head is
167 ———- your head is sick
168 ———- which is what sti’k means
169 ———- gagung means aching

Linguistic Ideology

Every culture has beliefs concerning their language (Silverstein 1979),

though many can not formally express the beliefs to which they adhere,
they can in some cases provide a simple/folk explanation for their usage
and understanding of their language. These ideas concerning the usage, that
is, the register, rules, context, and structure ultimately reflect a linguistic
ideology. Kroskrity (1992) argues that such beliefs govern the
understanding, the preference of usage, concern for language maintenance,
as well as attitudes towards purism (298–299). Hall summarizes the power
of language and linguistic ideology as he states “nothing happens in the
world of human beings that is not deeply influenced by linguistic forms”
(1977:31), and interestingly, it is what is believed about language that also
affects how the world is viewed (Sapir 1931). That power, which infuses
language, is essential to any community’s language to survive and thrive.
The elders at the immersion camp held very strong and variable beliefs
concerning Haida, and they articulated their beliefs very adamantly. In this
section, I explore the data to support the presence of linguistic ideology, and
to reveal that the ideologies are variable among the elders, i.e., that the
elders have differing views among themselves concerning Haida, its
structure and its use, and especially as Haida transitions from a spoken
language to a written language. This is apropos for Ferrer notes, “The study
of linguistic attitudes in the process of linguistic revitalization is essential
to understanding negative (eg. impoverished, rural or uncultured)
associations of dominated languages” (2010:478). Morgan captures
strongly held notions about literacy when she explains, “For the tribes at Fort
Belknap, as with many Native American communities, literacy is viewed as
a legacy of the colonial past as well as, perhaps, a key to a
multilingual future” (2009:249). Literacy in the indigenous languages
Linguistic Strategies Encountered at a Haida Immersion Camp 109

certainly fosters the acquisition of any language to a greater degree when the
community effort to salvage the language occurs, and this effort is evident in
the Haida community.
Beginning with the first portion of the transcript, in line 016, has the
elder giving instruction to the student concerning the articulation of ot and
as the elder modeled the correct pronunciation, he explained from his
perspective concerning the structure of Haida phonology that the problem
with the student’s pronunciation was an over articulation and suggested that
the student “say it kind of plain.” The elder repeated his belief concerning
the word’s pronunciation as he contrasted his enunciation with the
student’s and commented that his was “kind of plain” compared to the
student’s (line 21). The elder continues to evaluate the problem concluding
that the student’s articulation “is spread out more” (028) and, therefore, “it’s
not plain” (031) in contrast to his own enunciation “like I say ot” (033–034)
which, in the elder’s mind, had a quality of plainness.
In the second portion (B) of the transcript, the same elder is now
helping a different student. As he explains the pronunciation of gagun, he
mentions that it is similar to gage and the student interrupts him as he
models the word. She appears to understand his explanation and
incorporates his comparison in line 103–104 for her production of gagun.
He bases his comparison on the root of the word gag and as he
provides an environment the student is familiar with, she provides
correction and immediate production. Seemingly pleased with her effort,
the elder encourages the student by telling her “to keep saying the same
thing over” (114), and “that’s better” (115), and concludes with the
affirmation “that’s right” (116). Tannen suggests repetition along as
well as “dialogue and imagery work along with other linguistic (and
nonlinguistic) strategies to create involvement” (1989:9) and repetition
seems to be the key for this student to better her pronunciation of the term
and involvement with the immersion camp goals.
In the third portion of the transcript, the same novice is now with a
different elder. This elder was very analytical concerning her language.
She was quick to voice her opinion and often found opportunities to
correct others in their Haida usage. In lines 143 and 144, she provides an
interpretation of the Haida syntax, grammar, and content of the student’s
speech, commenting that:

145 ———- because it seems like you want to know right now
146 ———- and then we put that in the past tense
110 Part II. Haida Language

The elder then suggests the correct Haida usage for the English portion she
is translating and analyzing. During the interaction, the student mentions
that she has been using the Haida Dictionary, (Lawrence & Leer 1977)
and the elder summarizes the situation by commenting on the dictionary.
The novice is given an explanation for the Haida dictionary’s inadequacies
as the elder explains,

157 elder B you see some of the things

158 ———- they put down
159 ———- they only worked on this dictionary
160 ———- a very short period of time
161 ———- so some of the things
162 ———- they say is awkward

revealing that the awkwardness was due to the short time it took to
produce the book. Accordingly, she implies, that the dictionary would have
been adequate if the people had taken the proper time in compiling the
words and definitions. The elder’s use of “so” in the discourse was the
conclusive result marker of the prior statement that foregrounded the fact that
“...they only worked on the dictionary a short period of time.” She concludes
her comment on the dictionary with the “correct” way to say the item in
The variable linguistic ideology expressed caused some consternation
among the Haida language apprentices because there were so many
variations of interpretations and translations, as well as variable linguistic
competence (in Haida) even among the elders. Lindstrom’s (1992:116)
work on debatable truth is appropriate for consideration here because it
was often the case that the elders’ interpretations and translations were
variable, if not contradictory to each other. This fact did not seem to bother
any of the elders, but it caused some of the students great distress because
of their desire for the “correct translation.” Lindstrom affirms that such
ambiguity “existing discursive orders often comprise multiple lines of
power that allow contradictory truth” (1992:122). It was also evident that
some elders believed their interpretation or translation to be the only
“correct” or “true” translation, and this fact, though acknowledged by the
elders, still did not present any problems of among the elders, but great
plight among most of the students. An example of this distress is when
one elder commented to a student “you’re doing good, you’re doing
good. Some of them we’ll have to brush over,” revealing the need to
negotiate an acceptable production.
Linguistic Strategies Encountered at a Haida Immersion Camp 111

Finally, what is also significant concerns the role of education and

literacy in a communities indigenous language, as Morgan explains, that
the “transformation of literacy from a symbol of colonial past into an
example of self-determination is difficult” (2009:243). This Haida
immersion camp reflects that difficulty in transitioning Haida from a
spoken to the written language, not just for the elders, but for the
apprentices as well. The camp also unites that transition from orality to
literacy within the ideologies of both elders and students. The elder’s
ideology of language, best summarized by the eldest elder, challenges the
students with the words “you say by somebody and they’ll give you
different way, and pretty soon it will straighten up.” Her comment reveals
the need for negotiation, as well as patience, which both results in the
language being “straightened up” and exemplifies linguistic ideology which
accepts variability of the among the elders.

Clarification and Apprenticeship

Clarification is a universal linguistic interaction, something that all cultures

engage in with various methods to clarify speech. Daily verbal
interactions with others have numerous occasions to make our interactions
clearer by rethinking and restating utterances in the conversation. These
strategies for clarification are often unique to the individuals in the
community, yet are also very much culturally based. Ochs suggests,

those verbal activities such as clarification sequences are organized by sociocultural

as well as by linguistic principles. Strategies for clarifying unintelligible
utterances are linked to local conceptions of social order, knowledge, and
communication. (Ochs 1988:128)

Thus, the role of culture in clarification cannot be exaggerated when we

begin to explore how members in a community engage in clarification among
each other.
Apprenticeship is also universal among cultures around the world. It is
also largely practiced with both spoken and unspoken cultural
assumptions within all speech communities. Each culture has ways in
which it prepares its youth to be functional citizens of its community, in
speech and in deeds. This linguistic apprenticeship will include such things
as knowledge of speech acts, including knowing how to request, to
compliment, to offer respect, to demand, when to interrupt, how to
interrupt, when not to interrupt, what words are acceptable, what words are
112 Part II. Haida Language

profane, and many other such acts. But the process was not necessarily
easy, as Morgan explains, “Individuals who wished to gain access to these
types of cultural knowledge had to follow accepted methods of
apprenticeship” (2009:196). Clarification and apprenticeship are thus
profoundly woven together with intricate cultural strands expressed and
instantiated within the speech community.
Social order is especially salient in the Haida community because of
their hierarchical society. Historically, the social rank (one ethnographer
noted that it seemed all Haidas reported that they were of the “noble class”
when he asked about their lineage) and moiety (Eagle or Raven) governed
the daily interactions in the community. All of the social interaction was
historically based on the matrilineal kinship system, and the relationship
with the opposite moiety was “naturally” contentious (Swanton 1909). Since
Swanton’s work, there has been a slight shift in the nature of contention.
It is not only between moieties, rather, now the divisions focus on
geography: Massett (north) versus Skidegate (south) on Haida Gwaii, or
Massett/Skidegate versus Kaigani (Alaska). Thus, historically the social
rank would have had great influence on the daily interaction between
members from each moiety, but moiety did not influence clarification
sequences at the camp. It was simply the need for apprenticeship in
Haida culture and language guided most of the clarification.
The clarification sequences occurring at the immersion camp, I suggest,
are also an interactive apprenticeship (Rogoff 1990) into the language. Lave
and Wenger (1991) suggest that “learning viewed as situated activity has as its
central defining characteristic a process that we call legitimate peripheral
participation” (Lave & Wenger 1991:29). They trace the progression of
apprenticeship to situated learning to legitimate peripheral participation. The
clarification sequences serve to provide legitimate peripheral participation, or
as they argue, “full participation” (Lave & Wenger 1991:37) in the Haida
immersion camp, and hence, the Haida language.
The language apprenticeship that occurs at the camp serves to provide the
necessary skills and ability to learn and use Haida. During the process of
apprenticeship, the clarification sequences provide explicit training in the
phonology, grammar and syntax of Haida, much like Schieffelin’s (1990)
observation of elema, Kulali for “say it like this.” The ultimate goal of the non-
fluent Haida speakers is fluency, both in production and comprehension. The
results, then, have the students following the progression of apprenticeship to
situated learning, to legitimate peripheral participation.
In the beginning of the first transcript, the elder is trying to clarify what
the student is trying to say. He asked (line 001) the student to repeat the
Linguistic Strategies Encountered at a Haida Immersion Camp 113

poem, and soon as he heard the first word, he interrupted and began the
clarification sequence. Once the elder realizes what the word should be, ot,
he then provides the correct form of the word. He did not try to guess what
the student uttered, but simply expressed that he did not understand (line
005). The sequence then progresses as the students refers to the English,

007 student okay, let me see

008 ——— where’s my other one
009 ——— I’m talking about the eagle
010 ——— that sits upon the rocks
011 Elder oh, uh huh
012 Student you know
013 ———- ot kwa ingut qowan
014 elder yeah, ot
015 student ot, ot
016 elder ot say it kind of plain
017 ——- you, you say it too low

The clarification sequence begins when the elder realizes that the Haida
word the student is not enunciating correctly is ot, and then models the
correct form until the sequence culminates in correct production by the
student in line 035. The sequence exemplifies clarification and
apprenticeship of word choice and enunciation.
Another example of clarification with the same elder but a different
student occurs in the second portion of the transcript, lines 102–120. For
the purpose of this analysis, I will focus only on 103–114:

103. Novice di u yakun gagin

104. elder di yaku jin gagun
105. ——— just the same like almost like gage
106. ——— you know ga>
107. novice gagun
108. elder gagun yeah
109. novice e’ di u yaku jin>
110. elder jin
111. novice ga>
112. elder ga>
113. novice gun>
114. elder alright, keep on saying the same thing over again
114 Part II. Haida Language

The clarification sequence begins in line 104 as the elder provides the
correct form of the utterance and then begins to explain in line 105 the
problematic word. He continues his explanation and as soon as he provides
a similar word in line 106, the student is able to correct her own
production before the elder finishes providing his clarification. Her
participation, then, can be seen as the progression from apprenticeship of
pronunciation to situated learning of similar morphophonemic
environments of gage and gagun, to legitimate peripheral participation
through the sequence of clarification, as well as the elder’s encouraging
response in line 114 to her Haida production.
One final example of clarification concerns the eldest elder as she helps
the student with her speech. The student is interested in thanking and/or
acknowledging the elder for her help and the elder is analyzing what the
student has written down as the sequence begins:

121 elder B kil lagung

122 novice kil lagung
123 elder B no, you’re over here>

124 novice um hmm

125 elder B lagung
126 ———- is that [where/what] you did this morning?
127 novice um hmm
128 elder B let me see that-
129 ———- di kil la la::gung>
130 novice di>
131 elder B [here] thanking me for helping you
132 ———- di gudung klats hl dung hahl
133 ———- klats kil lagung
134 ———- dung klats kil lagung
135 ———- di gudung klats dung ahl kil lagung>
136 novice di gudung klats dung ahl kil lagung
137 elder B hmmm, let’s see
138 ———- kil lagung
139 ———- that’s it

The clarification sequence starts with line 121 as the elder begins to
provide help. She refrains from helping until she can see (lines 126–128)
what the student had done earlier that morning and then assesses how she
can be of assistance. She vocalizes the possibilities of utterances from line
Linguistic Strategies Encountered at a Haida Immersion Camp 115

129 to 134 and finally produces what she feels is the best answer in line
135. The student immediately repeats what the elder has said in line 136,
but the elder has one final assessment in line 137 and repeats kil lagung
and ultimately concludes with “that’s it.” This sequence exemplifies the role
of apprenticeship of a very traditional social act, that of giving thanks to the
elders (Boelscher 1989). The student is carefully being provided with the
correct form of thanks kil lagung that can literally translate as “speaking
well of”. The result of this clarification sequence has very particular
ramifications of l egitimate peripheral participation that will affect the
apprentice’s ability to publicly acknowledge and thank the elder(s) for the
help provided.


Brown and Levinson (1987) suggest that politeness is a universal

notion and strategy employed in conversational interaction. They suggest
that different cultures express politeness distinctively. I have observed
many occasions of politeness at the immersion camp, and I will
specifically look at the interaction of the male elder and compare his
politeness in the clarification interaction sequences with the other elder’s
similar interaction to provide support for the assumption that there was
indeed a presence of politeness.
According to Brown and Levinson the concept of ‘face’ equates with
the qualities of embarrassment or humiliation (1987:61). The two qualities of
face are:

I. negative fact: the want of every ‘competent adult member’ that his actions be
unimpeded by others

II. positive face: the want of every member that his wants be desirable at least some
others. (Brown & Levinson 1987:62)

The two faces are prone to what is described as a face threatening act
(FTA), a result of certain communicative interactions (60). My focus shall
exemplify FTAs against a positive face. The concept of politeness, thus,
incorporates a quality of characteristics and interactions measured in a high
degree or low degree of FTAs.
In line 001 of the first portion of the transcripts, the elder
graciously asks the student “can you say it slow again right now?” The
first word of the poem presented a problem for the elder because he could
116 Part II. Haida Language

not understand it and instead of assuming what the word was, he asked for
a slow repetition of the poem. The manner in which the elder asked
seemed to minimize his FTA request to repeat the utterance and he
entreated with respect for the student’s positive face. The elder’s
graciousness is consistent as we see in line 017 in which he explains that
the student is saying the word “too low” and provides further comment by
saying the student’s production seemed “spread out more” (lines 27- 28).
The elder’s tone is not one of unquestionable imperatives, but an analytical
prescription which offers the correction to the problem of enunciation
the student is having. His FTAs have been very low (on the scale of high
or low) because the speaker (elder) seemingly does not want to impede
the hearer’s (student) freedom (Brown and Levinson 1987:65).
Later in the same portion of the transcript, the elder tries to explain that
the word the student is saying, qowan, is not the word for sitting down, but
actually means laying an egg:

080 elder not

081 ——— qowan qowan
082 ——— means, uh when you see a
083 ——— qowan
084 ——— it sound like
085 elder that the eagle’s laying egg>
086 student (laughs)
087 elder (laughs too, though slower than the student)
088 ——— you see a
089 ——— qowan

The concern for the student’s face can be seen as the elder explains the
difference of the correct word and the incorrect word and only laughs after
the student. If he did not care for the student’s ‘face,’ he could have
laughed earlier when he first heard the utterance, instead, he waits until the
student has laughed and then joins in the laughter. But the elder continues:

090 ——— it comes pretty close to qowan

091 ——— qowan means egg>
092 student so what’s the right word
093 elder qowang
094 student qowang
095 elder qowang
096 ——— sitting down you see>
Linguistic Strategies Encountered at a Haida Immersion Camp 117

097 student qowang [alright] qowang

098 elder sitting down and uh
099 ——— it’s a big difference>
100 student sitting down and laying an egg>
101 elder and laying an egg, yeah

After the elder recovers from the laughter, he continues his explanation in
lines 90–91. He defines the correct word in lines 95–96 and concludes with
a low degree FTA comment in lines 98–99 but is interrupted by the student
who concludes the utterance.
The positive-face FTAs occurring with the other elder has a negative
evaluation of the situation and she states “no, you’re over here” (line 123).
She then starts to demand information about the work previously done, “is
that [where/what] you did this morning?” Then, without an invitation, she
insists of the student “let me see that” (line 128). The tone of this section
of the transcript had a high degree FTAs because the elder’s evaluation of the
student’s location (line 123) was negative. The elder was demanding,
disapproving, and challenging. She then provided an unsolicited analysis
and correction of the spelling of one of the words. An interesting note
concerning the elder’s disapproval concerns literacy in Haida. To this date,
there has not been an official orthography adopted by the Council of the
Haida Nation, and the elder’s attitude reflects a strong ideology concerning
literacy in spite of the fact that there is no official orthography. Duranti
and Ochs’ treatment of literacy has an important discussion about how the
dominant language influences aspects of literacy which are quite different
from the indigenous traditions (1985:71).
A final observation in line 139 reveals the elder’s passive tone, but
she is still negatively evaluating the student’s speech as she states “it seems
like something’s wrong.” She offers a negative evaluation and tries to
analyze and correct the problem through repetition to herself, ultimately
resolving the problem in line 133. The student is very quick to repeat the
correct form (line 134) perhaps as a face saving act to counter all the high
degree FTAs she had been receiving.


From the 1993 Haida immersion camp data, I explored the presence of
variable linguistic ideology of the Haida elders concerning pronunciation,
translation, and writing of the Haida language. Kroskrity offered an apropos
118 Part II. Haida Language

observation about ideological clarification for researchers and indigenous

communities, “that awareness does vary and change is potentially very
important in language renewal contexts since it alerts researchers and language
activists to ‘read’ ideologies not only from the voices of community members
but also from their embodied linguistic practices” (2009:73). Clarification in
the context of apprenticeship in learning Haida occurred at the phonological,
lexical, and phrasal levels, and often included culturally specific rules for
certain speech acts, including publicly thanking elders for their help. Finally, I
explored examples of politeness during episodes of language apprenticeship
where correction had to be inserted. The key factor in all the politeness
instances revolved around experiencing the least amount of face threatening
acts in elder-to-apprentice interactions as well as apprentice-to-elder
interactions. The transcripts provided and the ensuing analysis confirmed my
claim and interpretation that these phenomena were present at the camp, and,
thus, is possible to infer that similar interactions will be found at other
immersion camps. With a greater knowledge of what to expect at such camps,
there can perhaps be a greater involvement in the experience of learning an
indigenous language.
The phenomenon of First Nations/American Indian Language
immersion camps provides tremendous opportunity for linguistic research on
revitalization and participation. Leap (1988:283) and Brandt (1988:322)
both suggest that information/research concerning the linguistic state of
many First Nations/American Indian languages is very sparse, but is
extremely relevant and salient. Nettle & Romaine (2000) and Harrison
(2008) contend that many language revitalization efforts may be too late for
some languages, though Fishman is optimistic that any effort to save
languages will be its own reward (1991). Participation and learning styles
of Native Americans and First Nations communities is a key to more
accurate indigenous language pedagogy at the academic sites (see White
2008), but efforts like immersion camps also need greater consistency
(more of them) and systematicity (more intentional language focus and
organization) to achieve speakers of the language.
Chapter 9

Revisiting Haida
Cradle-Song 67


The significant development concerning traditional Native American

literature and Native American cultural research has invoked attention to the
intricacies of Native languages that previously had been ignored, if even
considered at all (Basso 1984; Bringhurst 2002; Hymes 1981; Kroeber 1981;
Kroskrity 1986; Swann 1992; Tedlock 1972). This attention has sparked a
review of the volumes amassed during the early part of this century by the
premier anthropologist Franz Boas and his protégés (1911, 1922). This
return—to the texts gathered by Boasians as well as other collections—is
replete with stories and songs of the tribes of North America.
My interest in this chapter is to consider a Haida song that John Swanton
collected during the Jesup North Pacific Expedition during the winter of
1900–01. My purpose in looking at this song re-examines the original text’s
content and context in order to offer a modern paraphrase with regards to
aspects of Haida culture possibly neglected in the original analysis. In order
to provide a greater contextual understanding of the song, I find it apropos to
address two factors in the process of discussing the song. The first concerns
the problematic categorization of Native American literature, and the second
provides background to the collection of Crade-Song 67. In essence, what
will result is an ethnohistorical elaboration of the cradle-song within its
cultural significance.

I would like to acknowledge and express my gratitude for the valuable support of
Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Faculty Professional Development
Council Grant that generously funded part of the summer 2008 travel to Haida Gwaii for
the research necessary to produce this chapter.
120 Part II. Haida Language

The Classificatory Question

A result that was prevalent in accumulating literature from many American

Indian tribes was the subsequent classification into Anglicized genres of
narratives, songs, prayers, or poems. This categorization was usually a
product of the earliest collected literature and the problem that went unseen
or unquestioned was the reason or explanation for the cataloging of the text
into one of the aforementioned categories. Cagle clarifies,

Before the American Indian Literary Renaissance in the late 1960s, most of what was
identified as American Indian poetry was actually oral stories and songs recorded in
verse as poetry by missionaries, ethnographers, and anthropologists who were
inclined to define Native artistic forms in relations to their own cultures. (2007:30)

The translators often also provided the subsequent title for the text and the
typical tribal attribution for the text rather than any individual (Day
1951:viii). Swann further notes the paucity of consideration to the translation
process, “Certainly there was no explicit attention to structure, and texts were
presented in plain prose, in block form, with little or no attempt to represent
the verbal artistry” (1996:xxviii). Hence, while tribal affiliation retained
importance, the actual person providing the song was not. In this case, the
song or poem itself was the sole focus within the context of the tribal
affiliation rather than the individual attribution. The text had preeminence
over the individual, though the translators recognized the need for some sort
of context and allowed the tribal affiliation to suffice (Day 1951:ix).
The early classification practice regarding elements of Native American
oral traditions as songs or poems has at least a twofold implication that must
be addressed before accepting the classification provided:

I. The designation of the text as a poem or song may wrongly imply

that the author is somehow an artist and that the song or poem is a
result of a honed artistic ability;
II. The actual categorization may reflect the translator’s preference/bias
and not necessarily the author of the text.

Historically, the author’s ability to provide such a text does not

necessarily mean that person is an artist who devotes his or her life is to such
endeavors. The poem, song, or prayer may merely reflect an occasion which
commemorated by the individual experiencing the event in question and such
occasions and commemorations of such events were certainly not limited to a
chosen few.
Revisting Haida Cradle Song 67 121

Bierhorst offers another explanation, that the singer or orator, “does not
consider himself the originator of his material but merely the conveyor.
Either he has heard it from an elder or he has received it from a supernatural
power” (1971:4). While this sentiment is certainly accurate historically,
present day indigenous authors and poets do not necessarily have such claims
for their literature, that of receiving the content of their craft from an elder
or a supernatural power. Bruhac, however, does evoke contemporary
spirituality when he claims, “Our abilities as writers—as novelists and
poets, playwrights and essayists—are a gift given to us by the Creator. It is
our obligation to return that gift, to make use of it in a way that serves the
people and the generations to come” (1995:xix).
Then comes the problem of categorizing the texts. Often, the evidential
preference of the translator or editors imposed a need to have the texts fit
nicely into a western category for the purpose of enjoyment from the western
perspective. Thus, what seems like a simple classificatory exercise for the
song has become a cultural imposition that ultimately obfuscates important
indigenous features in the song. Kroeber addresses this imposition by
explaining, “My experience teaching such material, however, has shown me
that Americans who only know Western literature are baffled by Indian oral
narratives” (1981:1). He continues with the observation, “very often it is not
so much their unfamiliarity as our preconceptions that make it difficult for us
to understand traditional Indian tales” (1981:2), and though the comment
refers to Indian tales, the same sentiment applies to songs and poetry.
Fortunately now, with more contextual information of the occasion of the text
and its content, it is easier to render such texts as songs or poems with greater
regard for cultural accuracy.

Background to Cradle-Song 67

As the 19th century was quickly passing, Franz Boas and his contemporaries
feared the national loss of linguistic and cultural knowledge because of the
expected disappearance of the indigenous communities. He therefore
commissioned many of his graduates to capture as much information about
the language and cultures of North America as possible before the inevitable
demise of indigenous communities. Swanton depicted his efforts and
explained, “my primary task being the investigation of the religious ideas,
social organization, and language of the Haida Indians” (1905:9). The
general scope of the works was to gather, assemble, and publish information
about the cultures and languages of handpicked indigenous communities
122 Part II. Haida Language

(Boas 1911; 1922). Commonly referred to as ethnologies, literally the study

of nations, the works were often focused on cultural and linguistic
descriptions, including phonemic and grammatical information and included
as much narratives and songs as possible.
With this motivation for documenting Haida, Swanton began his cultural
and linguistic salvific enterprise on Haida Gwaii in the first winter of the 20
century to record Haida narratives. Bringhurst reports that Swanton started
recording the Haida language immediately upon his arrival, but that he was
also learning the Haida language as he gathered the narratives and songs
(1999:420). As a student of Boas, he was astutely aware of the details of
language that Boas deemed important in capturing along with important
cultural information. Bringhurst records a shift in priorities as Boas
originally was interested in Haida myths in so far as they would enlighten
details about kinship, lineages, crests, family guardian spirits, significance of
masks, intratribal and intertribal marriage roles, and artifacts, but Swanton’s
focus quickly focused on the Haida language itself (1999:153). Boas
ultimately yielded to Swanton’s focus and his efforts at documenting the
Haida language amassed an unsurpassed collection and analysis of Haida
language through family narratives, history, and music.
Music is an essential part of Haida communities, and Enrico and Stuart
acknowledge both the substance and the intricacies of music among the
Haida. They claim that music, “…was so much a part of traditional Haida
life that even the untrained observers managed to pass on some information
about it’s use, and one can piece together a fair idea of the traditional
importance and variety of music among these people” (1996:4). They also
offer eight categories for songs: 1. house-building and mortuary potlatches,
2. lullabies, 3. mourning, 4. warfare and making peace, 5. vengeance potlatch,
supernatural manipulation or manifestation, 7. songs of play, and 8.
miscellaneous (1996:4–5). Among the Haida, rank and status were inherent
but not fully realized without appropriate potlatches—celebrations or
ceremonial events to establish such honor. Potlatches were also community
events in which, according to Drucker, “brought to expression basic
principles involved in social status and served as a major force for social
integration” (1963:131).
Swanton’s recording of the Haida songs during that winter eventually
found publication in three categories: I. Cradle-Songs, II. Mourning-Songs,
and III. Miscellaneous-Songs. One of the many Haida words for song is
sgalaang, but there were many different types of songs recognized by the
Haida (Boeschler 1989; Enrico 2005), some of which might fall within the
Cradle-songs, but there were also lullabies which were not necessarily
Revisting Haida Cradle Song 67 123

limited to children in a cradle. The Haida term for this song is git
kagáandaaw (Lawrence 1977:436) or gid qagaan (Enrico & Stuart 1996:21),
which classifies this song as a lullaby.
The title of the Swanton collection which contains this lullaby is Haida
Songs (1912). There are 106 songs in the collection with 88 cradle-songs
representing the bulk of the collection. The rest are 11 mourning songs and
six miscellaneous songs. Three of the 88 cradle-songs are from different
tribes: #23 & #24 are Tsimshian and #55 is Tlingit, both western neighbors of
the Haida along the Canadian and United States west coasts. Most of the
songs, 67 of them, are from the Skidegate dialect though the last 15 are from
the Massett dialect. The lullaby song #67 is considered and acknowledged to
be a song by the Haida, and attributed as a cradle-song by Swanton. He

As has been stated in a discussion of the songs, the cradle-songs are the property of
various families. For this reason the songs which form the bulk of the collection here
presented are arranged according to the families to which they belong. The names of
the families will also be found in the publication before referred to. (1912:3).

This song is one of four from the family Qa’ial lanas, and
parenthetically, Swanton provides the information, “Songs of Qa-i l’naga’—
I,” as the one who owns the song (1912:44).

The Haida Lullaby

Swanton recorded and translated Cradle-Song 67 and I reproduce it here

almost exactly as found in the original publication of the song with the
exception of /ġ/ which in the original has the dot below rather than above the
phoneme. The following footnotes are found in the first line, “1. kugwai’ya
is equivalent to qa’ga; 2. ġe’tgagi is equivalent to ġe’tgaqa” (Swanton
1912:47). In Swanton’s orthography, /ñ/ is a voiced velar nasal (normally
represented as /n/) and has the same sound in English found at the end of
words such as sing, thing, or wing. The sound for L is “something like tl or
kl; in both the tip of the tongue touches the back of the teeth, and the air is
expelled at the sides” (Swanton 1912:4). And though it is not found in the
general introduction, the /’/, seems to be a glottal stop. The sound found at
the beginning of tcinañ is similar to the voiceless palatal affricate, but the
tongue is much more relaxed and flat, rather than tight and taut against the
palate. A final note concerns /g/, a voiceless uvular stop which Swanton
refers to as “sonans.”
124 Part II. Haida Language

Cradle-Song 67
TcinAñ silġa’ nAñ kūgwai’ya1 skoa’gagin ġē’tgagi2 hao.
His grandfather place some went a long behind was
one time ago there

Lū’ġa gū’ġa ga sLdA’ldañ Lūġagū’ ġa ga qingiñgî’ñġa:

On his canoe planks they put on on his canoe thing is great on the
their sides water

Wa’ġAn di’nA+ñ hi’dja+la’I wA’ġan dī’nAñ kudju’gaasañ.

For it my child is a boy for it my child is going to be a
(baby word) leader.

Ya’ña, ya’ña, kilsLa’-iġan. Ya’ña, ya’ña, ki’ñġetġan.

Be careful be careful my chief. Be careful be careful my master!

His grandfather’s place someone went a long time ago behind was there.

On his canoe planks they put on their sides on his canoe thing is great on the water;
For it my child is a boy (baby word), for it my child is going to be a leader.

Be careful, be careful, my chief! Be careful, be careful, my master.

Swanton’s English Translation

My child is a boy because he is going to do as his grandfather—
did when one went to his place long ago.
After he had been there, his canoe was so deeply laden
(with gifts), that they had to put the weather-boards
on it (to increase its capacity);
For it my child is going to be a leader.
Be careful, be careful, my chief! Be careful, Be careful, my master!

A preliminary observation of the interlinear and the free translation

reveals that the word order is completely changed in the free English
rendition. This must occur because Haida is an OSV (object subject verb) or
SOV word order (see as Campbell 1990:1032 for a discussion of Haida word
order), and English is SVO. The word at end of the first line, hoa, is an
untranslatable vocable, which Enrico and Stuart regard as a nonsense syllable
Revisting Haida Cradle Song 67 125

that “is virtually never an archaic speech form or a foreign word, and virtually
never an animal call” (1996:459). It is also important to note the repetition in
the Haida version, and that the use of repetition in most oral cultures is
usually for emphasis, even literate cultures (Boas 1955). The repetition
begins in line two and interestingly the word for “on his canoe”, lū’ġagu’ġa
is separated in its first mention into two words, Lū’ġa gu; ġa.
There is another word repeated in this line, ga, which is curiously
translated as “planks” the first time and “thing” the second time. The third
line contains a phrasal repetition, WA’gan dinA+ ñ, which is translated as
“For it my son” both times. The addition sign indicates the lengthening of the
vowel a. The last repetition found in line four and repeated four times is also
phrasal: Ya’ ña, is translated as the imperative “be careful” but could also
mean ‘be watchful’ in the sense of ‘be wise.’
The significance of the changed order has tremendous influence upon the
subsequent interpretation of the song. The first line refers to the grandfather
and in Haida the construction of possession is marked with /añ / in Swanton’s
orthography. The word for grandfather, tcinAñ, can refer to “my”, “your”,
“our”, “her”, or “his” grandfather because the possessive suffix /añ / does not
necessarily distinguish such pronominal classification. It is usually through
the context of the discourse or interaction that the pronominal referent is
discerned and understood. Though Swanton translated wA’gan as ‘for it’
both times, it is also possible to translate this simply as ‘just because’ (Enrico


The dynamics of oral narration is all but lost amongst many American Indian
tribes, though within many tribes efforts are being made to keep the tradition
alive. Amongst the Haida, some have noted that the tradition known as the
“high words” refers to use of the language in a formal code in which the
speech has elements of formality filled with metaphor and allusions
(Swanton 1905a, 1905b, 1912, Boelscher 1989). This elevated language
usage is rarely practiced anymore due to the loss of ability resulting from a
slow process of language death (Enrico 2003:7), but there are some very good
efforts with all three dialects, Skidegate, Massett, and Kaigani, to revitalize
the Haida language and this dynamic usage can be recovered.
At the time of Swanton’s recording, the use of high words was
prominent, especially within the git kagaandaaw (lullaby) practice that
honored the yahgid children, literally, those that were high caste children.
126 Part II. Haida Language

The prominence of git kagaandaaw suggests the importance of children in

the Haida society and that such attention bordered on spoiling the child (Day
1951:57). The result of such practices led to a socialization of the children to
their status within the community and also socialized the child to intimate
knowledge of the kinship system (Goodwin 1990; Schieffelin 1990; Scollon
& Scollon 1981). With the knowledge instilled from the songs concerning
the kinship system, the child acquired the intricacies of detailed relational
practices that must be observed amongst his family. Ochs and Schieffelin
observe the following two claims in regards to language acquisition and
socialization that can be realized and confirmed amongst the Haida:

1. The process of acquiring language is deeply affected by the process of becoming

a competent member of a society.

2. The process of becoming a competent member of society is realized to a large

extent through language, by acquiring knowledge of its functions, social
distribution, and interpretations in and across socially defined situations, i.e.,
through exchanges of language in particular situations. (1984:277)

The complexity within the Haida language revealed particular aspects of

the kinship system and learning the terms of immediate family members
provided the essential information necessary to determine how to relate to the
person according to their lineage. The Haida kinship terms clearly indicated
how the person was related to the speaker and thus, what the protocol was for
interaction with that person. The git kagaandaaw socialized the children by
providing essential kinship knowledge including the specifics of how to
properly address others and oneself. Ochs and Schieffelin conclude that with
such socialization, even in participating in simply as audience, “the infant
develops a range of skills, intuitions, and knowledge enabling him or her to
communicate in culturally preferred ways” (1984:311). Such is the case of
the cradle- song 67.
The significance of the term for grandfather is perhaps most enlightening
to context of the song because there is a Haida myth that attributes their
existence to salmon. Significantly, the word for salmon, tcin, is the word from
which grandfather is derived. One story of the Haida’s origin explains how
the salmon began to emerge from the ocean and as they emerged, they were
in the form of xáayta, or Haida, the human people. Another important factor
related to the grandfather is the reference of place. Concerning narratives of
origins, location, or history, Basso refers to the magnitude of place as not just
a singular location, but also a place-world (1996:6). This place-world
embodies two salient questions, ‘what happened here?’ and also ‘what will
Revisting Haida Cradle Song 67 127

happen here?’ In this cradlesong, the reference to the ‘place’ is water, the
oceans and rivers.
The Creator, in Haida mythology blesses his children from below.
Blessings come up from the waters, not down from the heavens. Bringhurst
elaborates on this theme, “Manna falls only rarely from the heavens; it
emerges daily from the waves” (1999:65). As the grandfather goes to the
place of blessing, the water, he is overwhelmed with gifts so much so that the
canoe must be modified to contain the blessing. The reference to the place
also suggests that it is the point of origin, the place from whence the Haidas
emerged. The significance of the grandfather’s journey to this place and
subsequent return with wealth and gifts speaks of the status of the
grandfather. He is a great chief and he must therefore have a great canoe.
Haidas have been well-known for their skill in canoe building. The style
included having high projected bow and stern, “a sharp vertical cut water or
forefoot, and a rounded counter” (Drucker, 1963:72). Their canoes have
been up to 60 feet long and eight feet wide, made from a single red cedar tree.
Drucker discusses the prominence of canoes on the northwest coast of
Canada and United States with this important insight, “While all the
northern tribes made both large and small canoes of this style, the Haida
canoe makers were especially esteemed for their craftsmanship.” He further
explains, “and the mainland group sought to buy the Haida-built craft when
the tribes assembled at the olachen-fishing grounds on the Nass River every
Spring” (1963:73). Thus, in the song, the craft is essentially a canoe fit for a
great chief, and as such, returning from the ‘place,’ it should supernaturally
be filled with gifts.
As we come to the final stanza of the song, we see repeated
admonishments but with different status terms. In the Haida social system,
there is a ranking of status (Blackman 1981; Boelscher 1989; Kroeber 1922)
that categorized the social order according to the order of nobles (chiefs),
commoners, and slaves. Another subcategory of rank was the servant, not
quite a commoner and not as low as a slave. Within these different ranks, the
guiding principle that linked succession was both matrilineality and clan
membership. For traditional Haida succession, it must be through the mother
that any son achieves the status of a chief due to matrilineal rule the Haida
observed (Van Den Brink 1974). It is also from the mother that every Haida
inherits clan membership, Eagle or Raven. Thus, the song serves to socialize
the child in at least three aspects of the culture not evident in the English
gloss or in the Free English translation:

a. The child is socialized to the terminology of his own rank;

128 Part II. Haida Language

b. The child is socialized in the use of addressing the rank of others;

c. The child is being socialized to his position in society.

It is not simply a song to put the child to sleep. It is a song to socialize

function and status for the child as he grows.
A significant observation concerns the repetition in the song. Repetition
has many functions, including emphasis, instruction, and tradition. There are
four different repetitions throughout the Haida song: the words Lū’ġa gu; ġa
and the phrase wA’gan dinA+ ñ are repeated twice; and the fourth one,
Ya’ña, is repeated four times. This is noteworthy because, as Bierhorst
explains, “The four directions (east, west, south, north), corresponding to the
four faces of the human body (back, front, left, right), are held sacred in many
cultures.” He continues, “By extension, the 4 itself is also sacred and fourfold
repetitions occur frequently in song and myth” (1971:4). In this song, we
can see all the functions of repetition occurring to emphasize history, to
instruct social functions, and to maintain tradition.
These aspects of the Haida culture contribute significant understanding
about the song because the child will need to know how to address others and
how he will refer to himself. The boy will be prepared to lead his village,
and, thus, he must be aware of his destiny and have the essential knowledge
to be and in being a leader. The words for ‘chief’ and ‘master’ are the words
he must learn and know when to use, and since they are being by his mother
used to address him in the song, he will learn how to respond to them as well.
The song has various occasions to be sung. The most obvious comes
from its category git kagaandaaw, the lullaby, which is sung to sing the child
asleep for a nap or for the night. The song was also sung in order to instill
soothing during such events as a potlatch, totem pole raising, or during a
naming ceremony celebration. Enrico and Stuart explain further functions of
the lullabies in the Haida community, “Their role in the house-building
potlatch, however, was responsible for their elaborateness, their content, and
their ownership lineages” (1996:21). But whatever the occasion, the song
provides socialization for the child concerning his rank/destiny, how he must
think of himself, and for the terminologies of respect for the people of power
in the village.

A Revised Modern Paraphrase

While much is to be applauded in Swanton’s work, he leaves opportunity to

improve his efforts with a greater ethnohistorical perspective that incorporates
Revisting Haida Cradle Song 67 129

meaningful stories and tribal accounts of history. I concur with Swann, “But
it is too easy to make fun of the early collectors. The fact is, their
contributions were enormous, and numbers of them did make an honest
attempt to break through ingrained cultural habits” (1992:5).
Yet Swanton was a rare scholar that invited scrutiny and was neither so
unapproachable nor uncorrectable that he would not allow revision of his
work. He humbly regarded his work and its significance. In fact, Swanton
wrote Boas a letter in response to his mentor’s query about Haida
manuscripts Boas had received from him nearly 40 years earlier,

Dear Professor Boas,

Please feel free to make any disposition of my Haida text material you desire. I fear
much of it is pretty crude but had hoped that it might be good enough for a better
linguist to correct… (Bringhurst 1999:195)

There was still the student/professor dynamic even though at this time
Swanton was 69 and Boas was 82, yet Swanton invited and expected scrutiny
for his Haida texts and translations.
With the information provided in this chapter, I present a modern
paraphrase of Swanton’s translation.

Because my child is a boy,

he is going to do as his grandfather did
when he went to his place long ago.

And while there they filled

his great canoe so much with gifts
they had to increase its capacity with boards.

Be carefully wise,
be carefully wise,
my chief!

Be carefully wise,
be carefully wise,
my master!
130 Part II. Haida Language

In the first stanza, the importance of the child’s heritage is immediately

evident. His leadership and exploits are directly related to his mother’s father,
as is Haida custom. We also have a veiled reference to the place of origin, the
place from whence the Creator bestows his blessing which overflows into
stanza two. Here in the second part, the reference to the Creator’s blessing is
more explicit and so lavish that the canoe has to be altered to make room for
the blessing. It is important to note that as a key figure in the Haida
community, this boy’s canoe will be extraordinary. While the Haida seems to
reference greatness on the water, the canoe is also great because of its size
and its owner. These make this canoe great. As the song ends, the singer
admonishes the child to be wise and invokes important Haida terms for this
boy’s future status. The repetition of the admonishment is common among
many cultures’ use of language to discipline and also to socialize. The
expectation of such admonition is, of course, obedience; and heeding the
words of parents and elders is indicative of well-reared child.
This paraphrase captures Swanton’s parenthetical additions in the English
gloss as well as the socialization practices for the addressee of the lullaby. By
comparing the versions of the song, this paraphrase captures the focus and
purpose of the song, not only to lull a child to sleep, but also to instill in the
child the knowledge of place, of kinship, and destiny.


The Cradle-Song 67 as translated by Swanton reveals an adherence to the

literal form of the song with little consideration to significant background
knowledge that inform the translation of the song and its content. I have
suggested an ethnohistorical review and offered a paraphrase of this song
with a concern for form and content. The scope of my paraphrase results in
an incorporation of the information concerning the significance of tcin in
Haida mythology. The story of the emergence of the xáayta from salmon
helps to keep the idea of the grandfather’s journey to and return from the
‘place’ in perspective. Just as Swanton did, the paraphrase retains the
essential status of chief that the child will inherit.
This ethnohistorical perspective incorporates salient information
concerning the form of the song, git kagaandaaw, which is not just for
infants, but also for toddlers who are beginning to learn the language. Seen
from the perspective of language socialization, the song provides a model for
socializing the boy to his rank and destiny, as well as providing important
linguistic and behavioral expectations for interaction with others of the noble
Revisting Haida Cradle Song 67 131

class. Thus, the song’s conclusion repeats the sentiment that it behooves him
to ‘be careful’ of his rank and destiny, or to be thoughtful, as the word
suggest, with wisdom. The song ends with the admonition of being wise and
tending to life with wisdom. This lullaby contributes to the child’s informal
education about his environment, his history, his identity, and his role in the
community both as he hears the song and in preparation for the future.
Chapter 10

Lost in Translation:
Expressing Haida
Ideology in English


In this chapter, I further investigate participant interaction of Haida elders at a

language immersion camp in August of 1993. My purpose is to provide
an enhanced analysis of the elders’ interaction as they express their
linguistic ideology about Haida in English. Many linguists, such as
Kroskrity (1992) and Whorf (1941), have noted that speakers of a language
offer insight to various aspects of what language is, how it functions, and the
limits of language. Linguistic ideology is the term for such insight.
This chapter will therefore explore language ideology among the Haida
elders concerning Haida structure, Haida translation, and Haida use. I
provide examples Haida linguistic ideology at three basic levels:

1. phonological, i.e., the sounds of Haida within its phonemic inventory;

2. the syntactic and semantic level; and,
3. the translation level, i.e., how some things are lost in translation.

These three aspects provide the grounds for analyzing Haida elders’
ideological stances as they work with apprentices to translate Haida phrases
and narratives into English.


The Haida immersion camp’s original date was the summer of 1994, but due
to the insistence of April Churchill, the grantee, the Alaskan Parks Board
released the funds earlier. Churchill’ argument included the reality that some
134 Part II. Haida Language

elders invited to participate might not be alive the following summer. Thus,
it was important to engage them in language maintenance and teaching
activity as soon as possible. The Parks board then released the grant earlier
than the original date of distribution. During the winter of 93/94, five Haida
elders died. One elder was nearly 100 years old, and another was a
participant in the immersion camp; thus, Churchill’s predictive words
warranted the earlier distribution of the money.
The participants of the camp were a group of six fluent elders, one of
whom was male (81), the youngest was in her late 50s, and the eldest was
85. There were 14 other participants of varying Haida proficiencies, six
teenagers from 14–19, four females and two males; two pre-elders (elders-in-
training), a male and female, who were in their mid 40s; and the final group
consisted of six mid 20s to mid 30s persons, three males and three females.
All participants were of Haida descent, and all were at the camp to teach or learn
Tulung Stung served as the sight of the immersion camp. It was a
traditional Haida dwelling site in the northwestern most location of Haida
Gwaii in British Columbia, Canada (Blackman 1982:23). It occurred August
23 to September 2, 1993. The elders enjoyed a helicopter ride directly into
the camp, and the rest flew by plane to Kuista “the town at the end of the
trail” (Swanton 1909:281). They then had to hike anywhere from 25 minutes
to 90 minutes to the camp, depending on whether the tide was in. If the tide
was out, it was possible to walk on the beach (approximately 25 minutes
walking time), if it was in, then it was necessary to hike and climb along the
craggy cliffs and hills (approximately 90 minutes of hiking, climbing, walking,
and resting).
The original plan was that the camp would be a complete immersion in
Haida. The reality of a majority of non-fluent Haida speakers and only a
minority of fluent speakers quickly established the schedule that only
eliminated English at designated times rather than completely. The schedule
allowed the elders to present historical narratives, traditional basket
weaving from gathering the spruce roots to the finished product, traditional
narratives and individual time with all the participants. Certain meals,
designated as NO ENGLISH, were quiet at first, but which ultimately
provided focused Haida interaction in dealing with food.
The elders were aware of and agreed to being recorded throughout the
duration of the camp. Their acute awareness of the delicate survival of Haida
as a spoken language served as the basis for allowing the recordings in part to
establish a database of Haida discourse and interaction. Since the earliest
research on the Haida language, the focus has been on a individual
Expressing Haida Ideology in English 135

discourse, and mainly representative of only male informants (for example,

see Swanton 1905, Sapir 1923). This camp was a rare opportunity to
have only one male informant among four female informants, all of whom
were regarded as elders due to their age, the youngest being in her mid-sixties,
the eldest was in her early eighties.

Linguistic ideology

Every culture has beliefs concerning their language (Silverstein 1979),

though many cannot formally express the beliefs to which they adhere, they
can in some cases provide a simple explanation for their usage and
understanding of their language. What a culture believes about language
affects how the culture views their world (Whorf 1941). These ideas
concerning the usage, including, the register, rules, context, and structure
ultimately reflect a linguistic ideology. Kroskrity argues that such beliefs
govern the understanding, the preference of usage, concern for language
maintenance, as well as attitudes towards purism (1992: 298–299). This
purism reflects a rigid protectionist approach towards language use that
may include adhering to traditional morphophonemic, morphosyntactic, or
even discourse forms and in some cases does not allow incorporation
of new words. Hall, summarizing the power of language and linguistic
ideology, states “nothing happens in the world of human beings that is not
deeply influenced by linguistic forms” (1977:31).
The elders at the immersion camp held very strong and variable beliefs
concerning Haida, and they articulated their beliefs very adamantly. In the
first example, the elder is giving instruction to the student concerning the
articulation of ot, (eagle). As the elder modeled the correct pronunciation, he
analyzed the problematic pronunciation of the student. The problem with the
student’s pronunciation was articulation of the vowel. He suggested that the
student “say it kind of plain.” The elder repeated his belief concerning the
word’s pronunciation as he contrasted his enunciation with the student’s. He
commented that his was “kind of plain” compared to the student’s
pronunciation (line 21). The elder continues to evaluate the problem and
concludes that the student’s articulation “is spread out more” (028) and,
therefore, “it’s not plain” (031). In contrast, the elder’s enunciation “like I say
ot” (033–034) had a quality of plainness in the elder’s mind. In fact, the low
glottural attempt of the student significantly differed from the mid tense
vowel of the elder. The elder’s phonemic level assessment included his own
folk ideas of correct pronunciation.
136 Part II. Haida Language

In a second example, the same elder is now helping a different student.

Here he begins with the suggestion that “It’s got to be in sentences.” His
evaluation of the novice’s problem is that the context requires sentential
form. However, as he explains the pronunciation of gagun, he mentions that
it is similar to gage. He seems to focusing on the phonemic level as the
student interrupts him while he models the word. She has understood his
explanation and eagerly incorporates his evaluation. She then says gagun.
The elder’s evaluation is based on the root of the word gag and as he
provides a phonemic environment the student is familiar with, she self-corrects
immediately. He is pleased with her effort and encouraged her by telling her
“to keep saying the same thing over again” (112), followed by “that’s better”
(113), and concludes with “that’s right” (114). He is pleased because the
student has now incorporated his initial assessment of the sentential necessity as
she correctly produces the sentence.
In the third example, the same novice is now with a different elder.
This elder spoke all three dialects of Haida and was very analytical
concerning Haida. She was quick to voice her opinion and often found
opportunities to correct others in their Haida usage. In lines 141 and 142,
she provides an interpretation of the Haida syntax, grammar, and content of
the student’s speech, commenting that:

141 ———- because it seems like you want to know right now
142 ———- and then we put that in the past tense

to suggest the correct Haida usage for the English portion she is translating
and analyzing. She offers a grammatical level analysis of what the student
wants translated into Haida, but has also conjectured about what the student
wants to know. Yet, she does not ask the student whether her analysis is
correct. During this interaction, the student mentions that she has been using
the Haida Dictionary, (Lawrence & Leer 1977) and the elder summarizes
the situation by commenting on the dictionary. The elder provides details
for the Haida dictionary’s inadequacies as the she explains,

155 elder B you see some of the things

156 ———- they put down
157 ———- they only worked on this dictionary
158 ———- a very short period of time
159 ———- so some of the things
160 ———- they say is awkward
Expressing Haida Ideology in English 137

revealing that the awkwardness is due to the short time it took to produce the
book. It must be inferred, then, that the dictionary would have been adequate if
the people had taken the proper time in compiling the words, definitions, and
examples. The elder’s use of “so” in the discourse is a conclusive conjunction
adverb referencing the prior statement foregrounding the fact that “they only
worked on the dictionary a short period of time.” Her comment on the
dictionary is followed by the correct way to say the item in question.
The elder provided an analysis and correction based on the perception that
the time it took to create the dictionary was insufficient to capture all the
complexities of the Haida lexicon and grammar. Interestingly the elder fails
to tell the student that though it is a Haida dictionary, it is only of the Kaigani
dialect. The student is from Massett, speaks the Massett dialect, and thus,
would naturally have some differences in not only pronunciation, but also in
spelling due to the different morphologies between the two dialects. The elder
confidently transforms the student’s desire to know now into a past tense form
in Haida while disclosing her own authority above the dictionary. The subtle
message is that the book is okay to a point, but the elder knows more, which
is this case may actually be true since she knows all three dialects and the
dictionary focuses on only one.
The elders frequently expressed their linguistic ideology and it caused
some consternation among the students because there were variations of
interpretations and translations, as well as different levels of linguistic
competence (in Haida) even among the elders. Lindstrom’s (1992) work on
debatable truth is appropriate for consideration here because often the
elders’ interpretations and translations were variable, and seemingly
contradictory to one another. This fact—that some translations contradicted the
other elders’ translations—did not seem to bother any of the elders, but the
students were greatly distressed because of their desire for ‘the’ correct
translation. The difference of age between the elders and the novices may
account for the discrepancy concerning the students’ need for correctness
and the elders’ perception of correctness, but there is another factor as well.
That factor has to do with having English as a first language. The need for
being correct or having the correct way of saying anything may be an
imposition of English structure or English discourse patterns on Haida. The
novices have grown up with the discourse structures of correct English, but
the elders were fluent in Haida before they learned English. Thus, the elders
had a different paradigm to measure what was correct or incorrect
because their discourse patterns of language use were initially Haida and not
English. The novices had only learned only English discourse patterns and
measured Haida from that perspective.
138 Part II. Haida Language

It was also evident that some elders believed their interpretation/translation

to be the correct/true translation, and this fact, though acknowledged by the
elders, still did not present any problems among the elders, but great plight
among most of the students. Collison sheds more light on interacting with
Haida elders as she explains, “I was taught that silence is golden. I was
taught how to listen, when to speak and when to be silent” (2010:37). Her
interaction affirms the notion that the elders speak what is right, and
apprentices must learn from those times in silence. Back at the immersion
camp, one elder commented to a student, “you’re doing good, you’re doing
good. Some of them we’ll have to brush over,” revealing the need for
negotiation of for the final product. In other words, the work could only have
its completion after a final evaluation and approval from this elder.
Time is a significant factor when addressing linguistic ideology. The
interesting aspect that threads correctness and translation together is the
passage of time. The eldest elder summarized this ideology of language
best when she encouraged a student with the words, “you say by
somebody and they’ll give you different way, and pretty soon it will
straighten up.” Her comment reveals the need for negotiation for clear
expression and patience for correctness in expression. The elder believes
that both negotiation and patience result in the language being “straightened
up,” thus exemplifying that even the variability of translation among the
elders simply requires persistence and patience.
The final aspect of ideology concerns humor. Humor is often culturally
and even individually defined and appreciated (see chapter 4). The failure of
humor is often prominent when a joke or story fails to be funny after
undergoing translation into English. There are various linguistic reasons for
this loss, because even though the words themselves are translated without too
many problems, the story fails to have its humorous impact. Since it is not
merely a problem of lexical translation, this must be addressed at the discourse
level. Two examples provide insight to this phenomenon.
The first example, most of the elders were sitting around the table after
dinner and just talking to each other in Haida. They were aware of the
presence of the novices and that they did not understand much Haida. One
of the elders, the only male of the elders, was telling a story to another
elder about a particular character who often talked to himself. When he
finished, the two elders broke out in loud laughter. It was apparent to the
male elder that none of the novices understood since they stood there only
smiling. He then told them the story in English,
Expressing Haida Ideology in English 139

Henry: Yeah, see Wilfred’s mother went in. And said and she said “don’t talk to
yourself because people are laughing at you about it.” He never said anything sitting
down there. And so so she turned around and before she could even close the door
he says, “I wonder why the that little lady is saying that—little lady is saying that.”
((chuckle)) But it’s real funny in Haida.

Mary: Uhh hmm.

Henry: When you translate it to English most of the fun is taken away isn’t it?

Mary: Uhh hmm

After translating the story, it was not funny. In fact, Henry is the only that even
chuckles and that may be a result of knowing how funny it is in Haida. He
then explains that the reason for the loss of humor results from translating it
into English. The fun “is taken away” in English and Mary agrees with
Henry’s assessment.
Finally, in response to a novice’s comment, “I wish that I could speak good
Haida one day,” Henry and Grace offer two encouragements. The first is that
one day she will speak Haida. Henry continues the second encouragement
saying, “One day you will and you will laugh and laugh and laugh and
laugh and you will enjoy it so much. There is so much happiness attached
to it you know.” Both elders agree that becoming fluent in Haida actually
makes one happy since there is so much laughter associated with speaking
Haida. The consensus among the Haida elders is that speaking Haida not
only cultivates intimacy, but it also fosters joy. This attitude towards
speaking Haida affirms Dean’s notion that humor is a key ideological
element in the health management among First Nations and Native
American communities (2003:65).
Certainly, what is humorous in Haida is different from what is
humorous English. But what accounts for the general lack of translatability
of humorous situations from Haida to English? On one level, Haida discourse
patterns obviously differ from English discourse patterns. It could be
intonation, inflection, dramatic pauses, punch line delivery or any
number of discourse strategies, but some how those same strategies expressed
in English do not ensue the laughter that those discourse strategies in Haida
do. Though unable to express why, it is significant that the consensus among
the elders is that often what is very funny in Haida is not funny at all when
translated in English. The humor is lost in translation.
140 Part II. Haida Language


What I have explored in this essay was the presence of linguistic ideology of
the Haida elders concerning Haida. They expressed their ideology about
Haida linguistic aspects ranging from phonemic to the discourse levels
and even Haida translation into English. Though the elders shared similar
ideologies, such as difficulty in translating to Haida into English, there
were also some idiosyncrasies as well. While the elders were comfortable
with their linguistic ideological differences, it was a source of frustration for
the novices. The elders seemed to embrace ambiguity, but the novices
needed more absolute answers about whether the translations were ‘correct’
or not.
In considering the loss of humor when translating Haida discourse into
English, it apparent from the elders’ words that humor is much more
prevalent in Haida than it is in English. The reason or reasons why things
are funnier in Haida does not seem to trouble the elders even though they
could not voice explanations for the difference. The loss of humor in
translation does present a challenge, though, for further research for the impact
of culture and humor. Finally, it is also important to discern whether the
humor is a result of the construction of language and its inflections, that is
the stylistics which are dependent various voice inflections, pauses, or
emphases. Such knowledge of the functions of humor will offer further insight
to linguistic ideology especially in regards to what the elders think is funny or
not, and why it is funny or why it is not.
Chapter 11

Technology and
Language Revitalization

In the course of documenting an indigenous language—or any language—

technology has always played a very crucial role. While keeping close
records of the language has been beneficial, it has not necessarily kept the
language alive. Consider Latin as an example of a language that had
tremendous record and usage worldwide, yet it has become extinct, that is, no
one is learning it as a first language. Those that do learn Latin rarely use it for
conversation; it is for academic or religious purposes that most Latin learners
study the language. Thus, documenting a language does not necessarily
mean that that language will endure. It simply means that there is a record
of the language, but for the indigenous community, according to Payne,
“Good linguistic research communicates to minority language speakers and
to surrounding groups that the minority language is worthy of respect”
(1997:2). Documenting indigenous languages is part of a greater effort to
revitalize the languages that are nearly dead (Meek 2010).
What is important to consider here is what we do when we document a
language? Prior to the 1900’s there was no way to capture and record
language sounds except by ear and textual notation. So, with languages that
were not yet documented, it was necessary to devise an orthography for
phonemic inventory. Simply, an orthography is a written alphabet for a
language. This process of orthographization is not so simple, nor is it an easy
task. Consider English for example. When it comes to pronunciation,
English orthography is not consistent. Consider the how we say the
following words, ‘their, there, they’re’ or ‘weird, feign, receive, height.’
Or further, consider the letter ‘s’ in the following words, ‘simple, wise,
mission, measure.’ What you notice is the inconsistency of sound
correlations to the letters. All pronunciation of ‘their, there, they’re’ is the
same, for the most part. The vowel sounds for ‘weird, feign, receive,
height’ are all different, and for the letter ‘s’ we have voiced and
voiceless alveolar fricatives /s/ (simple) and /z/ (wise) as well as voiced and
142 Part II. Haida Language

voiceless palatal fricatives /š/ (mission) and /ž/ (measure). These are a few
examples of the need for consistent orthographic representation.
Haida has an interesting history orthographically which reveals the
intricacies of research and documentation of indigenous languages. Nearly all
of the researchers studying Haida have devised their own orthography for the
language. Even with Swanton’s seminal work at documenting Haida during
the early part of the 20th century (see Swanton 1905; 1909; 1911; 1912), most
of the subsequent work or research after Swanton did not necessarily adopt his
orthography, (see Bringhurst 1999; Enrico 1980; Lawrence 1977; Sapir 1923),
though they were all familiar with his work and consulted it frequently. Thus,
not having a single orthography means that anyone interested in studying
Haida language must become familiar with all the different orthographies for
an accurate historical summary. This makes collective coherence quite difficult
because a simple phonemic representation becomes ideological stances about
what sounds are or are not in Haida. Morgan captures this twofold tension in
her comments concerning orthography as she explains, “First, some people
believe that Indigenous languages are so difficult to write that any orthography
will fail to represent them. Second, some people find the very idea writing
itself to be symbolic of the colonial past and therefore objectionable for use in
the language classroom” (2009:211–12). While there are such tensions existing
within the Haida community, it is safe to say that most of the objections are
succumbing to the importance of actually saving the language.
Kroskrity has been working with Native American languages for
over 30 years, including Arizona Tewa and Western Mono, with major
contributions to language documentation. He has also addressed language
ideologies in light of language maintenance and remarks,

Though the work of language renewal properly focuses on the production of

critical resources for purposes of documentation (e.g., grammars, dictionaries) and
on activities of instruction and transmission (e.g., creating practical orthographies,
indigenous language pedagogies), those who have engaged in these activities
recognize, often too late, the fundamental need for dealing with “ideological
clarification.” (Kroskrity 2009:71)

The need to address the ideology about the indigenous language, both from the
insider and outsider perspective is imperative to successful documentation. But
when there are different orthographies—such as the variation among the
Kiowa—they affect language renewal efforts and Kroskrity concerned for the
renewal efforts then warns that the “practices of promoting multiple
orthographies…pose a real challenge to effective linguistic revitalization”
(2009:75). But the effort of continued documentation is crucial to languages in
critical stages of extinction such as Haida.
Technology and Haida Language Revitalization 143

In the last one hundred and forty years, attitudes have changed concerning
First Nations languages (Burnaby 1996; Kirkness 1998) and technology has
advanced the study and documentation of language exponentially (Benyon
2008; Collison 2010). The most important aspect of technology that has
affected language documentation is the ability to record sound. Beginning with
Thomas Edison’s phonograph cylinder recording breakthrough in the 1870’s,
capturing language has been quantitatively different from describing the
sounds and assigning them graphemic representation. The earliest Haida
recording is a song recorded early between 1910 and 1920 (Enrico & Stuart
1996: 4). While it is great to have the record of singing, there is quite a
difference between words in spoken speech and words being sung in a in song.
With normal speech, there is a natural rhythm, intonation, pitch, and pace, but
in song the rhythm, intonation, pitch, and pace can be exaggerated or
minimalized depending on the song (Enrico & Stuart 1996:455). But having an
artifact of the songs captures historical performative aspects that simply
writing about could not accomplish.
With the advancement of sound recordings, the ability to video-record also
adds another dimension to the documentation process. With the advent of film,
not only is sound captured, but the physical features of gesture and facial
expression also provide important visual clues to language use. What may
have been lost in the audio recordings can be captured in the video recordings.
This innovation, as it has become less and less expensive, is able to capture
language in small chunks, from the phonemic inventory to vocabulary, but also
in progressively larger chunks from phrases, sentences, to complete narratives.
But in combining all of these aspects—textual, audio, visual and recordings—
the computer adds a most significant contribution to the technological impact
on language revitalization. Neely and Palmer note how that innovation extends
to all aspects of language use, “Increasingly, young Native American scholars
emphasize appropriation of technology for Native empowerment and the
reclaiming and reinventing of literary traditions” (2009:274). This
technological innovation in language revitalization is not only for literary
traditions, but for orature, the combination of oral history and literature as
The impact of the computer on language documentation is simply
profound. From the earliest computers to simply store and retrieve data, to
the capacity now for graphics, data storage, and data manipulation is
simply endless. Galla summarizes some of the recent advances,

The 1990s, however however, brought about an array of technologies that

included videodiscs, CD- CDROMs, ROMs, digital video, virtual reality reality, 3-
D systems, HyperCard, Hyperstudio and the Internet. Since then, the Internet
144 Part II. Haida Language

has expanded rapidly rapidly, allo allowing wing users to search for information on
the world wide web, download readily available files (documents, videos, music)
and communicate with others via asynchronous tools (e-mail, message boards,
blogs) and synchronous tools (chat and webcam). (2009:167)

As the computer continues to expand its impact on human functionality, its

impact on language documentation and language renewal cannot be ignored.
While some indigenous communities are more advanced in their
efforts, it is important to note that among the Haida, there is a general
acceptance of the innovation that technology provides. Though there is
some trepidation with learning new tools in documenting the language,
most of the elders are more than willing to learn to use the technology
themselves or work closely with those who are conversant with computers
(Benyon 2008). Much of that effort has focused on the need for developing
curricular materials for all levels of Haida language learners. With the advent
of the global community, we have seen the distribution of the elders around the
globe. They no longer live on the reserve or near the reserve, they are all over
the world. Galla also observes, “Indigenous language speakers and learners are
no longer confined to a specific geographical area, but instead are scattered
throughout the world, thus posing a challenge of communication” (2009:171).
Technology has answered this problem with the telephone and with internet. It
is possible to call the elder and talk with them on the phone, or to link up with
elder over the Internet with camera and sound capacity.
Galla has devised three levels of technology and engagement in
the indigenous community that offers some important integration of media
into everyday life. One of the most important factors of language
revitalization is the actual use of the language. It is well- known that in
North America, for students learning a language in the classroom rarely
goes beyond the school walls, and that is especially true for First Nations
students (Kirkness 1998; White 2008). Thus, it is crucial to implement
indigenous language usage back into every aspect of life as it was
previously before the indigenous community shifted its language use to
English, but also into the new media as well. Summarized here are her
four tables for technology initiatives.
It is exciting that many of these aspects are already part of the efforts
among in the three different Haida communities. Though the bulk of the
early effort has been low-tech in its scope, recent efforts have incorporated
mid-tech and high-tech levels as well. In Alaska, through efforts of Sealaska
Heritage Institute and University of Alaska, Jordan Lachler has been
working with the elders to produce on online interactive course for
Technology and Haida Language Revitalization 145

Table 1. A sampling of low-tech initiatives

Technology Media Product
Printing press Newspapers
Books, print materials
Radio programs News, language lessons, songs
Audio recordings Wax cylinders
digital storybooks Cassette tapes
or lessons CD
Audio podcasts, mp3, or digital audio
files Microsoft PowerPoint
Videos/movies Tape reels
Video podcasts
Television programs News/headlines Language classes

Table 2. Comparison between low-tech audio and mid-tech audio initiatives

Level Example: Movie
Low-tech (unisensory) Hear the Indigenous language: The
language spoken is an Indigenous
language with no accompanying
OR see the Indigenous language:
The language spoken is
English with accompanying texts in
the Indigenous language
Mid-tech (bisensory) Hear AND see the Indigenous
language: The language spoken is an
Indigenous language with
accompanying texts in the
Indigenous language
146 Part II. Haida Language

Table 3. A sampling of mid-tech initiatives

Technology media Product
Web-based Wikis
Electronic library
Search engine
On-line dictionary with audio
Web sites–

Table 4. A sampling of high-tech initiatives

Technology media Product
Asynchronous Blogs; Discussion Board; E-mail
Synchronous Telephone; Chat; Webcam;
Interactive Audio video conference
multimedia Digital/computer/video games
Electronic bulletin board system
Rosetta Stone (adopted from Galla

beginners. The lessons feature Haida grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and

phrases in exercises, games, and quizzes. Lachler has also launched a
separate website featuring Erma Lawrence launched in 2003
http://www.haidalanguage.org/. Lawrence received an Honorary Doctorate
in Humanities from the University of Alaska in 2004 and also published
Alaskan Haida Phrasebook in 2010. Julie Coburn has taught Haida
lessons as part of the Haida semi-immersion curriculum project in
Kaasan, AK. In 2003 the Kasaan Haida Elders Interview Project produced
a video documenting oral traditions and the Haida Language. In 2008,
Frederick Otilius Olsen, Jr. produced a documentary entitled, Surviving
Sounds of Haida, which won the 2nd Annual Indie Short Film Competition.
Finally, Jeane Breinig (2009) discusses her own effort at documenting and
learning Haida as she has collected stories from elders in her community.
Technology and Haida Language Revitalization 147

In Massett, narratives and songs are being collected, digitized, and

transcribed by members of the community as well concerted efforts to
digitize the Haida language curriculum from Kindergarten to eighth grade,
with plans to expand the curriculum to the twelfth grade. Jaalen and Gwaai
Edenshaw, brothers collaborated and wrote a play, SINXII’ GANGU,
Sounding Gambling Sticks. Based on a John Swanton story recorded in the
early 1900’s, the brothers developed and wrote the play in English and then
translated the play into Haida with the help of Mary Swanson, Stephen
Brown and Norma Adams. The play has been performed all over Haida
Gwaii and in Vancouver. Xaad Kihlgaa Hl Suu.u (the Speak Haida Society)
has developed different Haida language instructional videos. One is about the
Haida Gwaii’s golden spruce tree called Kiidk’yaas (the only one of its kind
on Haida Gwaii), and made the videos available on the Haida Nation
website. So far there are ten videos produced all addressing Haida history
and orature. The society has also initiate the Haida Language Nest for
children under four, along with their parents in order to bring the Haida
language back into every day life in the Massett community and in their
homes. In 2008 Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, founder of White Raven
Law Corporation, received the Keeper of Traditions in Aboriginal Music
Award from the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. Her CD, New
Journeys, contains 12 songs.
In Skidegate, the elders have initiated the Skidegate Haida Immersion
Program (SHIP) which has been active since 1998 with 15 fluent elders and
10 students. The program has developed a CD, Pocketbook Guide to the
Skidegate Haida Language and has given the CD as gift to the children
attending the program. SHIP has also written the preamble to the Haida


(Skidegate Haida Immersion Program)
As worded in the Skidegate Haida Skidegate Translation
Constitution Translation of the Skidegate Haida
1. Our culture, our 1. Id kuuniisii asii id gii 1. What our ancestors
heritage is the child of isda gan, tllga ad siigaay gave us is the child of
respect and intimacy Gan t’aang aahxana ad respect and intimacy
with the land and the yahguudang, huu tllguu with the land and sea.
sea. Giidang.
148 Part II. Haida Language

As worded in the Skidegate Haida Skidegate Translation

Constitution Translation of the Skidegate Haida
2. Like the forest, the 2. Hlk’inxa gaang.ang 2. Like the forest, the
roots of our people are xaayda hllng.aay gud roots of our people are
intertwined such that giijaagids, gaay intertwined such that
the greatest troubles Gaaganuu gam gina daa the greatest troubles
can not overcome us. Ganga id gwii is hllnga can not overcome us.
Gang ga.
3. We owe our 3. Xaayda Gwaay.yaay 3. We owe our
existence to to Haida Gaaganuu id xaaynanga existence Haida
Gwaii. ga. Gwaay.
4. On these islands, our 4. Asii gwaay.yaay guu, 4. On these islands our
ancestors lived and id kuunaasii xaaynanga, ancestors lived and
died, and here too, we ad sing.gwa’ad gan, died and here too, we
will make our homes will make our homes
until called away to Sah ‘Laana tllgaay Gaa until called away to
join them in the great id gii kyaagang.ngaay join them in the great
beyond. Gaaw aan t’ang beyond.
naaxang sgwaanang Gas
5. The living 5. Id sihlga ga 5. The living
generation accepts the xaayna.ngas Xaayda generation accepts the
responsibility to ensure gina’ah gii t’ang responsibility to ensure
that our heritage is t’aas.slas, asii that our heritage is
passed on to future kyang.gaay passed on to future
generations llgaay.’waagii kilxii generations.
gang ga.

The SHIP program is dedicated to preserving the Skidegate dialect of

Haida and works closely with the Haida Gwaii School District 50’s. The
school district website explains SHIP’s purpose, goals, and accomplishments:

The Purpose of SHIP

The concern of the elders is that once the fluent Haida speakers pass
away the Haida Language would be lost. They wish to remain true to
Technology and Haida Language Revitalization 149

Haida language, heritage and culture—always. This is why the Skidegate

Haida Language House opened.

The Goals of SHIP

1. When we speak the Haida Language then we know we are Haida.
2. We want respect, love and healing for everyone.
3. When we complete our Learning we will receive an Adult Dogwood

Our Accomplishments
1. We have developed a working alphabet for the Skidegate Haida
2. Produced over twenty Skidegate Haida Language CD’s for sale in the
3. Audio recorded over 350 CD’s of spoken Haida
4. Compiled a Glossary of over 8500 words
5. Have written and/or recorded over 10,000 idiomatic phrases
6. Recorded over 700 Haida Place names
7. Video recorded elders speaking over 500 words listing—animals,
birds, invertebrates, fish and plants
8. Video documented many Haida Legends and myths
9. Currently working on a project where non-speakers will be able to
learn Skidegate Haida on the internet
10. Four of our elders have graduated from SHIP with the Adult
11. We are a school that prides itself as a place of healing

The efforts certainly do seem to be bringing the Haida language in all dialects
to the community in with a keen use of modern technology and traditional
What is evident among the Haida communities is excitement to
document, learn, and speak the language. It has been a long time since the
Haida language has had such attention and it is not just among scholars, it
includes all facets of the Haida community from the elders to the children.
The Haida community now holds annual conferences to address Haida
language revitalization and documentation efforts. Adults also generate
150 Part II. Haida Language

excitement about learning the language themselves. Some may be able to

understand, but never proceeded to speak the language with any confidence.
These types of second language learners are known as latent speakers. While
they are learning the speak the language, they are not true second language

Latent speakers appear to have a number of characteristics which distinguish

them from other second language learners. Being a latent speaker aids learning as an
adult, especially in regard to pronunciation. For example, latent speakers may use
different strategies for learning such as ‘sounding out to see if something is right’ as
they may have a more developed implicit understanding of their ancestral
language than a second language learner. However, being a latent speaker may
also have an inhibiting influence on language learning. One inhibiting factor is
fear of ridicule. (Basham & Fatham 2008:592)

However, the enthusiasm for learning is a solid basis providing hope for the
Haida language survival among adults and children. Prestige in speaking
and knowing Haida has been restored, along with respect, and what is
possible in the Haida language renewal effort is only left to the zeal of the
Haida Nation’s community members.
Zeal is necessary to accomplish anything, but especially revitalizing a
language. With students and adults energized and excited to learn, the task is
much easier to accomplish. But with the advent of technology, language
apprentices now grow along with improvements in computers and cell
phones. Galla summarizes the current state of most indigenous communities
as she observes that,

Students are unconsciously digesting, acquiring and integrating multiple literacies and
what better ways to have students learn the language through a fun and
painless process. This will become the wave of the future. Students born in the
21st century are surrounded by a multitude of technology and cannot live without
it: cell phones, the Internet, e-mail, blogs and iPods. They will no longer have
textbooks to read and/or take home, but rather be directed to a computer that
provides links to pertinent websites full of relevant information. Schools will turn
into wireless laboratories, with information at their fingertips. (2009: 178)

Her observations are keen, and with the right focus and energy, Haida
language revitalization and subsequent language maintenance efforts is also
advancing with the current technology. Given the great interest and innovation
for Haida language renewal, it would only be consistent with Haida character
to do things differently for greater adaptability. It also seems like it will not
be very long before there will be online interactive Haida dictionaries, histories,
and stories where people will be able to click on a Haida word and hear
Technology and Haida Language Revitalization 151

what it sounds like and see the English translation, and even a translation
program for English to Haida (in all three dialects) and Haida to English.
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A Bringhurst, Robert, 22, 65, 67, 68, 70, 71,

119, 122, 127, 129, 142, 154
acculturation theory, 87–97 Brown, Penelope, 101, 115, 116, 154
Alaska, 10, 17, 18, 21, 25, 26, 48, 54, 65, Bruhac, Joseph, 121, 154
76, 78, 88, 101, 112, 133, 144, 146 Burnaby, Barbara, 8, 143, 154
Alaska Parks Board, 54, 101, 133, 134
Acton, William, 86, 153
ancestral language, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 71, 81, 82,
83, 85, 86, 87, 95–97 C
ancestral language acquisition, 99–118
Andrews, Jennifer, 47, 153 Cagle, Amanda, 120, 154
art, 7, 8, 13, 22, 45, 48, 61, 64, 120 Cahill, Tim, 62, 155
assimilation, 81, 87, 90–95 Campbell, George, 51, 77, 80, 125, 155
attitude, 50, 52–53, 62, 87–88, 92–94, 108, Carrasco, Landin, 26, 28, 155
117, 135, 139, 143 Castellanos, Emilio Carranza, 25, 155
Austin, Peter K., 8, 100, 153 Chandrasekar, Raman, 3, 100, 155
Chomsky, Noam, 3, 155
Cohen, Eugene, 51, 155
Collison, William Henry, 33, 36, 40, 42, 88,
B 155
communication, 83, 84, 85, 86, 99, 100,
Bakhtin, Mikhail, 67, 70, 153 111, 144
Barrie, J. Vaughn, 45, 153 culture, 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 17, 20, 22,
Basham, Charlotte, 6, 150, 153 45, 47, 49, 52, 61, 63, 6 4, 71, 81, 82,
Basso, Keith, 119, 126, 153 84, 85, 86, 88, 90, 91, 92, 93, 95, 101,
Beals, Herbert, 25–26, 28, 30–31, 39, 153 108, 111, 112, 115, 119, 120, 121, 125,
bear, 40, 49, 61, 78–79 127, 128, 130, 135, 140, 147, 149
Benyon, June, 8, 143, 144, 154 Cutler, Charles L., 10, 155
Bierhorst, John, 121, 128, 154 Cutter, Donald C., 31, 39, 40, 155
bilingual, 5, 90, 92, 94, 99
Blackman, Margaret, 4, 22, 49, 52, 53, 88,
102, 127, 134, 154
Boas, Franz, 3, 75, 77, 82–83, 89, 96, 119, D
121–122, 125, 129, 154
Boeschler, Marianne, 9, 122, 154 Daly, Richard. 9, 10, 156
Bolton, Herbert Eugene, 40, 154 Day, A. Grove, 120, 126, 156
Brandt, Elizabeth, 81, 118, 154 Deans, James, 41, 156
166 Index

De Bot, Kees, 4, 156 fluent, 6, 54, 60, 68, 80, 81, 89, 96, 100,
De Croix, Marqués, 26, 156 101, 102, 134, 137, 138, 147, 148,
Deloria, Vine Jr., 45, 156 Francis, Daniel, 9, 157
De Solano, Francisco, 27, 156 Fromkin, Victoria. 4, 8, 157
Drew, Leslie, 41, 42, 46, 49, 69, 156
Dozier, Edward, 90, 156
Drucker, Philip, 40, 41, 50, 122, 127, 156
Duranti, Alessandro, 117, 156 G
Galla, Candace, 143, 144, 146, 150, 157
Gannon, Thomas C., 65, 157
E Gardner, Robert, 84, 157
Gladstone, Gladys, 26, 157
eagles, 18, 22, 33, 48, 57, 67, 103, 105, 112, Goffman, Erving, 101, 157
113, 116, 127, 135, Goodwin, Marjorie, 126, 157, 160
Eastman, Charles A., 45, 156 Gray, Stanley J., 3, 157
Eastman, Carol M., 77, 79, 80, 156 Grenoble, Lenore A., 4, 6, 99, 158
education, 6, 81, 82, 84, 111, 119, 131
English, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 20, 22, 54, 59, 60,
68, 71, 81, 83, 84, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90,
91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 102, 110, 113, H
123, 124, 125, 127, 130, 133, 134, 136,
137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 144, 145, 147, Haida culture, 1, 2, 8, 9, 12, 13, 17, 20, 22,
151 45, 47, 49, 52, 61, 112, 119, 120, 121,
Enrico, John, 4, 6, 22, 49, 76, 77, 78, 80, 88, 125, 127, 128, 147, 149
100, 103, 122, 123, 125, 128, 142, 143, Haida Elders, 9, 12, 54, 55, 57, 58, 59, 60,
156 68, 80, 100, 101, 102, 108, 110, 115,
environment, 2, 5, 84, 86, 109, 114, 131, 117, 118, 133, 134, 135, 137, 138, 139,
136, 140, 144, 146, 147, 148, 149
ethnology, 76, 154, 163 Haida Gwaii, 1, 2, 4, 10, 13, 17, 20, 21, 22,
explorers, 10, 26 30, 25–43, 45, 48, 50, 51, 63, 64, 66,
78, 87, 88, 102, 112, 119, 122, 134,
147, 148, 153
Haida history, 4, 13, 17, 20, 25–43, 45, 49, 63–
F 71, 88, 91, 122, 126, 128, 131, 142, 147
Haida humor, 11, 13, 45–62, 65, 138, 139, 140
fear, 30, 92, 121, 150 Haida identity, 2, 10, 12, 17, 21, 22, 48, 131
Fedje, Daryl W., 45, 155, 157 Haida ideology, 12, 55, 102, 108, 111, 117,
Ferrer, Raquel, 108, 157 133–140,
First Nations, 6, 18, 21, 48, 50, 64, 80, 81, Haida immersion camp, 12, 46, 54, 57, 59,
82, 83, 84, 89, 95, 97, 99, 100, 118, 68, 85, 99–118, 133, 134, 135, 138, 147
139, 143, 144, 154, 161, Haida Immersion Program (Skidegate), 147,
first language acquisition, 6, 22, 86, 89, 94, 148
97, 100, 137, 141, Haida language, 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12,
fish, 18, 19, 49, 66, 69, 70, 71, 79, 149 13, 22, 43, 45, 49, 51, 54, 67, 68, 71,
Fisher, Raymond, 26, 50, 157, 161 75–80, 91, 93, 94, 99–118, 122, 123–
Fishman, Joshua, 6, 7, 100, 118, 157 131, 133–140, 142, 144, 146, 147, 148,
fluency, 54, 60, 112, 153 149, 150, 151
Index 167

Haida moieties I
Eagle, 18, 48, 57, 112, 127
Raven, 18, 48, 57, 112, 127, 155 indigenous community, 3, 6, 141, 144
Haida people indigenous identity, 2, 7, 10, 90, 92
Norma Adams, 147 indigenous languages, 4, 7, 12, 13, 81, 82,
Phyllis Almquist, 54 89, 108, 141, 142, 164,
Jeane Breinig, 100, 146, 154 indigenous rights, 48, 51
Stephen Brown, 147 indigenous students, 55, 82, 84, 96, 97, 100,
April Churchill, 54, 101, 133, 134 111, 113, 137, 138, 144, 147
Delores Churchill, 54, 60 ideology, 12, 55, 90, 101, 102, 108–111,
Nora Cogo, 36, 40, 42, 155 117, 133–141, 142, 159, 162. 164
Robert Cogo, 36, 40, 42, 155 iron, 35, 37, 42, 43
Marcia Crosby, 2, 155 irony, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 54, 56, 57
Art Collison, 91 Iterbide, Jaime Castañeda, 27, 158
Ernie Collison, 95, 100
Pansy Collison, 8, 64, 65, 66, 69, 100,
138, 143, 155
Florence Edenshaw Davidson, 52, J
Robert Davidson, 13
Reggie Davidson, 13 Johnston, Moira, 10, 45, 88, 158
Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, 147
Charles Edenshaw, 13
Gwaii Edenshaw, 147
Jaalen Edenshaw, 147 K
Henry Geddes, 18, 19, 20, 54, 68, 69,
70, 71, 157, Kaigani Haida, 13, 76, 112, 125, 137
Dorothy Grant, 13 Kendrick, John, 41, 42, 159
Guujaaw, 10, 13, 158 Kiefer, Fanny, 65, 159
Ethel Jones, 54, 56, 60 King, Thomas. 63, 159
Kwiaahwah Jones, 100, 158 Kirkness, Verna J., 6, 143, 159
Lawrence, Erma, 76, 80, 110, 123, 136, Kodish, Bruce, 3, 159
142, 146, 159 Kroeber, Alfred, 127, 159
Florence Lockyer, 100, 160 Kroeber, Karl, 83, 119, 121, 159
Bill Reid, 13, 65, 67, 70, 71, 161 Kroskrity, Paul V., 81, 83, 90, 92, 101, 108,
Mary Swanson, 54, 147, 163, 117, 119, 135, 142, 159
Frederick White, 100, 118, 144, Kwakwaka-wakw (Kwakuitl), 40, 42, 64
Peter White, 9
Vivian White, 9
Grace Wilson, 45, 47, 54, 56, 57, 59,
60, 61, 62, 139, 164 L
Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, 48, 64, 159
Hall, Edward, 108, 135, 158 language, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 45, 47, 49, 65, 67,
Halpin, Marjorie M., 42, 158 82, 99, 112, 141
Harrison, K. David, 100, 118, 158 language and culture, 1, 2, 3, 12, 49, 121, 159
Hilton, Sylvia, 26, 28, 30, 158 language death, 4, 5, 6, 9, 13, 80, 93, 99,
Hinton, Leanne, 8, 99, 158 125, 162
Humbolt von, Wilhelm, 4, 158 language documentation, 8, 9, 13, 100, 102,
Hymes, Dell, 77, 83, 119, 158 142, 143, 144
168 Index

language endangerment, 6, 7, 13 Nuffield, Edward, W., 25, 26, 29, 30, 161
language learning, 12, 13, 81, 85, 95, 96,
100, 150,
language loss, 13, 81, 99
language prestige, 4, 7, 20, 71, 150 O
language revitalization, 4, 6, 12, 13, 81–97,
100, 108, 118, 141–151 Ochs, Elinor, 3, 101, 111, 117, 126, 156
language socialization, 3, 126, 128, 130 orature, 13, 63, 64, 143, 147
language survival, 6, 7, 49, 92, 93, 134, 150 oral tradition, 17, 22, 71, 120, 146
Larsen-Freeman, Diane, 84, 86, 87, 159 Owen, Roger C., 50, 159, 161
Lave, Jean, 101, 112, 159
laughter, 11, 45, 47, 48, 53, 57, 60, 61, 116,
117, 138, 139
Leap, William, 12, 81, 118, 159 P
learner, 55, 76, 84, 85, 87, 150
learning, 6, 11, 22, 54, 55, 58, 81, 83, 84, Patrick, Donna, 8, 161
85, 86, 87, 94, 96, 97, 100, 112, 114, Payne, Thomas, 8, 141, 161
118, 122, 126, 141, 144, 146, 149, 150 Pérez, Juan, 25–44, 153, 161, 162
Levine, Robert D., 51, 76, 77, 80, 160 Pilar de San Pío, María, 26, 27, 29, 30, 36,
Lincoln, Kenneth, 47, 160 161
Lindstrom, Lamont, 110, 137, 160 potlatch, 21, 22, 40, 42, 49, 50, 91, 122, 128

Makarova, Raisa V., 26, 160 Quijano, Calderon, 26, 27, 161
Makihara, Miki, 12, 160
marginalization, 2,
Massett, 9, 13, 50, 54, 56, 59, 75, 76, 77, 80,
112, 123, 125, 137, 147 R
Matthews, Peter, 5, 160
McCarty, Teresa L., 4, 6, 160 raven, 11, 18, 19, 20, 21, 48, 49, 63–71, 79,
Meek, Barabra, 9, 141, 160 Raven Cycle, 11, 20, 63–71
missionaries, 27, 49, 75, 88, 91, 120 residential schools, 7, 81, 88, 89, 91, 94, 155
Morgan, Mindy, 89, 108, 111, 112, 142, 160 Richardson, Nancy, 96, 162
Morris, Charles, 3, 160 Rogoff, Barbara, 101, 112, 162,
motivation, 1, 28, 69, 75, 84, 86, 87, 93, 94, Romaine, Suzanne, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 99, 100,
122 118, 160, 162
Murdock, George, 57, 160

Sapir, Edward, 49, 51, 77, 103, 108, 135,
Nettle, Daniel, 4, 6, 8, 10, 99, 100, 118, 160 142, 162, 164
Neely, Amber. 143, 160 Sasse, Hans, 5, 162
Nisg’aa, 40, 42
Index 169

Schieffelin, Bambi, 12, 101, 112, 126, 156, W

160, 161, 162, 164
Schumann, John, 84, 86, 91–97, 162 Walsh, Michael, 4, 164
Scollon, Ron, 126, 162 Webster, Anthony. 56, 164
second language acquisition, 12, 81, 100, Whorf, Benjamin, 101, 133, 135, 164
157 Woolard, Kathryn A., 101, 164
Servin, Manuel P, 27, 28, 29, 41, 162 world, 1, 2, 3, 8 17, 18, 46, 49, 58, 63, 64,
Shaw, Carlos Martínez, 25, 162 65, 66, 99, 108, 111, 144
Skidegate, 9, 13, 50, 76, 77, 78, 80, 112, worldview, 8, 20, 45, 135
123, 147, 148, 149
Silverstein, Michael, 3, 108, 135, 162, 163
singing, 7, 21, 22, 35, 59, 143,
songs, 17, 21, 22, 75, 119–131, 143, 145, Y
Spanish, 10, 2–43, 87, 89, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95 Ybarra Y Berge, Javier. 27, 28, 164
Stearns, Mary Lee, 26, 42, 46, 49, 163 Yehl, 11, 18–23, 48, 49, 64–71
Swann, Brian, 119, 120, 129, 163
Swanton, John, 4, 12, 22, 33, 36, 40, 41, 46,
49, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 83, 102, 112,
119–131, 134, 142, 147, 163

Tannen, Deborah, 109, 163
teasing, 46, 47, 51–53, 56,
technology, 141–151
Tedlock, Dennis, 83, 119, 163
Thickstun, Edmund, 46, 163
Tlingit, 40, 42, 50, 51, 64, 65, 77, 123
Tomalin, Marcus, 75, 163
totem poles, 13, 16, 21, 22, 49, 51, 91, 128,
Tsimshian, 40, 42, 50, 51, 64, 65, 77, 123
Tsung, Linda, A., 5, 163,
Tulloch, Shelley, 5, 7, 163

Van Den Brink, Jacob Herman, 127, 164
Villegas, Juan, 27, 164
Irmengard Rauch
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