Emerging from out of the Margins

Essays on Haida Language, Culture, and History

by Fredericke White (Author)
©2014 Monographs 169 Pages


This book provides an insider view of Haida language, history, and culture, and offers a perspective on Haida culture that comes not only from external research but 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 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.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. Introduction
  • Part I. Haida Culture and History
  • 2. Haida Mythology
  • 3. Was New Spain Really First?: Rereading Juan Pérez’s 1774 Exploration of Ha’ada Gwaii
  • Introduction
  • Historical Background
  • Departure from Monterrey
  • Describing the Haida
  • The First Encounter
  • The Second Encounter
  • Evidence, Discussion, and Comments
  • Conclusion
  • 4. Haida Humor
  • Introduction
  • Everyday Life Humor
  • Irony
  • Teasing
  • Light Word Play
  • Mockery and Self-Degradation
  • Immersion Camp Humor
  • Introduction to the Camp
  • Irony
  • Teasing
  • Light Word Play
  • Mockery and Self-degradation
  • Conclusion
  • 5. Why Raven Stole the Light: Revisiting Haida Oral History
  • Part II. Haida Language: History, Struggles, and Future
  • 6. Haida Language: A Brief Overview
  • 7. Rethinking Native American Language Revitalization
  • A Brief Historical Background on Native American Languages
  • Applying 2nd Language Acquisition/Learner Characteristics to Native Americans
  • A Closer Look at the Acculturation Model
  • Haida and Tewa Tribal Histories
  • Application of the Acculturation Model
  • Discussion
  • Ancestral Language Acquisition/Learning
  • Conclusion
  • 8. Linguistic Strategies Encountered at a Haida Immersion Camp
  • Introduction
  • Camp Background
  • Transcripts
  • Elder and Student
  • Linguistic Ideology
  • Clarification and Apprenticeship
  • Politeness
  • Conclusion
  • 9. Revisiting Haida Cradle Song 67
  • Introduction
  • The Classificatory Question
  • Background to Cradle-Song 67
  • The Haida Lullaby
  • Cradle-Song 67
  • Gloss
  • Swanton’s English Translation
  • Discussion
  • A Revised Modern Paraphrase
  • Conclusion
  • 10. Lost in Translation: Expressing Haida Ideology in English
  • Introduction
  • Setting
  • Linguistic ideology
  • Conclusion
  • 11. Technology and Haida Language Revitalization
  • HLGAAGILDA XAAYDA KIL NAAY (Skidegate Haida Immersion Program)
  • The Purpose of SHIP
  • The Goals of SHIP
  • Our Accomplishments
  • Works Cited
  • Index
  • Series index

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“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.

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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: ← 1 | 2 →

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 culture,

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. ← 2 | 3 →


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (February)
knowledge documentation revitalization
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 182 pp.

Biographical notes

Fredericke White (Author)

Frederick White, PhD, 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.


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