Haida elder GwaaGanad (Diane Brown) is presented with an honorary doctorate by Ralph Nilson, VIU president and vice-chancellor, left, and Louise Mandell, VIU chancellor, at the university’s convocation ceremony Monday. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Haida ‘wisdom-keepers’ receive university’s highest honours at VIU convocation

Nine Haida elders presented with honorary doctorates for preserving Haida language and culture

Nine Haida elders have received Vancouver Island University’s highest award for their work to preserve their language and culture.

This week more than 1,000 students will graduate from 67 VIU programs during five convocation ceremonies, but those ceremonies began Monday at the Port Theatre by first honouring the elders’ work with presentations of honorary doctorate degrees to Ildagwaay (Beatrice Harley), Taalgyaa’adad (Betty Richardson), Jiixa (Gladys Vandal), SGaanajaadsk’yaagaxiigangs (Kathleen Clara Hans), Niis Waan (Harvey Williams), Sing.giduu (Laura Jormanainen), GwaaGanad (Diane Brown), Yang K’aalas (Grace Velma Jones) and Gaayinguuhlas (Roy Charles Jones) who dedicated more than 20 years to preserving and revitalizing their language and culture through the Skidegate Haida Immerson Program, which they created in 1998.

The elders, whose average age is 84, lived through the time of the residential school system and are descendants of a people who numbered more than 13,000 prior to European contact that through war, disease and government policies, dwindled to just 588 souls, and represent the fight to preserve First Nations culture and languages, which are disappearing worldwide.

“Indigenous languages are disappearing at an alarming rate,” Louise Mandell, VIU chancellor, said in her convocation address. “Every few weeks an elder dies, with an ancient tongue taken to the spirit world. The sum total of those ideas and dreams and myths and beliefs and thoughts, all that intellectual wealth lost. Canada, one of the worst situations, where 40 to 45 indigenous languages are disappearing. In Canada, indigenous people are the only ones who can speak the language born of this land.”

Together, the nine men and women created “an avalanche” of Haida language in the Skidegate dialect that Mandell described as a “civilizational triumph.”

“These nine Haida elder wisdom-keepers are living libraries and have complete a great work to support and enliven an entire culture,” said Kevin Borserio, VIU Skidegate Haida Immersion Program coordinator, in his awards presentation address.



photos@nanaimobulletin.com
Like us on
Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Haida elder Niis Waan (Harvey Williams) is presented with an honorary doctorate by Ralph Nilson, VIU president and vice-chancellor, left, and Louise Mandell, VIU chancellor, at the university’s convocation ceremony Monday. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Haida elder Niis Waan (Harvey Williams) is presented with an honorary doctorate by Ralph Nilson, VIU president and vice-chancellor, left, and Louise Mandell, VIU chancellor, at the university’s convocation ceremony Monday. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Just Posted

Funtastic Alberni kicks back to the 1980s for Canada Day concerts

The nights are reserved for mullets, big hair and denim vests

Langford-Opoly game coming to West Shore Walmart this week

Game features local haunts like Darcy’s Pub, Hatley Castle and Luxton Fair

Tofino pushing for new hospital

Island Health cautions that process can take over seven years

EDITORIAL: Oh, the places they’ll go

Exciting opportunities await the graduating class of 2019

Retiring Vancouver Island University president reflects on more of a decade of leadership

Ralph Nilson has been president of VIU since the change from Malaspina University College in 2007.

10 facts about Father’s Day

Did you know that the special day for dads was first celebrated in 1910?

B.C. VIEWS: When farmland protection doesn’t protect farmers

Secondary residences aren’t mansions, families tell Lana Popham

Bombers down B.C. Lions 33-23 in season opener

Former Lion Andrew Harris leads Winnipeg with 148 rushing yards

Northern B.C. family remembers murdered Indigenous woman with memorial walk

Still no closure for Ramona Wilson’s family 25 years later

B.C. university to offer mentorship program for former youth in care

Students using the provincial tuition waiver program will soon be able to form a community at KPU

Cyclists competing in one of the toughest bike races on the planet pass through Fernie

Divide riders looking strong as they finish first leg of 4160 km race

You might not know these B.C. records are public

Hired a lawyer to file a civil claim? Those are published online

B.C. bus driver loses case to get job back after texting while driving full bus

An arbitator ruled that Tim Wesman’s phone usage was a “a reckless disregard for public safety”

Revamped B.C. Lions set to battle veteran Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Lions’ first test of the season will be a big one

Most Read