Sealaska Heritage

NEWS_SHI to sponsor lecture on the origins of the X̱aad Kíl (Haida) language

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Free event to be offered virtually

Feb. 5, 2021

(About the Lecturer) (Flyer)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a free lecture this Tuesday on the origins of the X̱aad Kíl (Haida) language.

The lecture, The Haida Language: Origins, External Relationships and Language Contact Through the Lenses of Linguistics, Other Sciences and Oral Histories, will be given by linguist Marianne Ignace.

X̱aad Kíl or X̱aayda Kíl is the language of the people of Haida Gwaii. Throughout history, but particularly in the 1700s, members of various Haida clans migrated to Southeast Alaska, settling in several villages, and also interacting with, and intermarrying with Tlingit communities and clans, bringing X̱aad Kíl into what became Southeast Alaska, she wrote.

In 1915, Edward Sapir, in his “preliminary” historical linguistic reconstruction of the interrelationship of Haida, Tlingit and Athapaskan based on morphological, syntactic and phonological features, argued for a Na-Dene family that included Haida. In the 1970s, a new generation of linguists who had worked on Haida, including Robert Levine and Michael Krauss, provided evidence for the exclusion of Haida from Na-Dene, thus pronouncing it a linguistic isolate, despite further attempts in the 1970s-80s by H.-J. Pinnow at reconstructions that included Haida in the phylum. The published research on Haida and Na-Dene to date culminated in John Enrico’s 2004 assessment, which makes the case for possible cognates and borrowing of Haida stems with and from Tlingit and Eyak, and flags the issue of past sustained contact between Haida and Tlingit speakers well before the Haida migration to Alaska.

In her presentation, Ignace will review the current state of linguistic research on Haida and Na-Dene. Beyond that, she will broaden the picture to move beyond linguistics: What do data from other disciplines like archaeology, paleoecology and genomics tell us about ancient migrations, population and language contact on the northern part of the Pacific Coast?

“Importantly, what can we learn from Haida oral histories, including place naming, Haida-Tlingit-Tsimshian clan interactions, and histories of interactions in the human and spiritual spheres?” she wrote.

The talk, which is scheduled at noon on Tuesday, Feb. 9, is part of a lecture series this month that explores the origins and earliest presence of Indigenous populations and cultures in Southeast Alaska from traditional knowledge and various scientific perspectives.

All lectures will be livestreamed at 12 pm Alaska time on SHI’s YouTube channel, and available for viewing on YouTube any time after the livestream (no account required).

This program is provided under the Preparing Indigenous Teachers and Administrators for Alaska Schools (PITAAS) program and funded by the Alaska Native Education Program. The series is also offered as a one-credit course through the University of Alaska Southeast. Contact for more information. 

About the Lecturer

Marianne Boelscher Ignace, Gulḵiihlgad, is professor of linguistics and Indigenous studies at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, and director of SFU’s Indigenous Languages Program. For the past 40 years, she has carried out research with speakers of X̱aad Kíl on kinship, place-naming, oratory, resource use and Haida interpretations of historical events as told through gyaahlangee (stories) in X̱aad Kíl. She also works in the Secwepemc Nation in interior BC on topics of Indigenous laws connected to land tenure, ethnoecology and social and environmental ethic, especially in their connection to the Indigenous language. She wrote The Curtain Within: Haida Social and Symbolic Live (1989) and the award-winning Secwepemc People, Land and Laws – Yeri7 re stsq’ey’s-kucw (2017—with Ron Ignace). She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and 2019 winner of the Canadian Governor General Award for Innovation.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116,