Seattle Foundation Blog

N2N Spotlight: Haida Roots

Reclaiming Indigenous culture and language for youth.


December 16, 2020

By Aileen Balahadia, Neighbor to Neighbor Program Consultant, and Elaine Chu, Senior Philanthropic Advisor

It was a site visit like no other.

That was the thought running through the minds of Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) advisory members who listened to Sondra Segundo, the founder of Haida Roots. She virtually shared the rich song, storytelling, and local art traditions of the Haida people. As Sondra told her story, those who heard it could immediately feel the passion and urgency of her mission.

“I grew up hearing my elders speak our Alaskan Haida language,” Sondra said. “They laughed harder when they spoke in Haida. I heard them speak but never understood. I could only understand a few commands and terms of endearment, such as Háws dlawaan Jáada! (That’s enough, girl!) and Dáng díi kuyáadang dagwáang (I love you, dear one).”

Haida Roots is a non-profit organization that connects urban Haida Seattleites to their endangered Indigenous language through dance, writing, art, and Xaad kil (Haida language) classes. Seattle Foundation’s N2N program recently awarded the group a grant to further their youth development and leadership work. In conjunction with Seattle Public Schools, the organization will create the first-ever Haida online language class. Using in-home visuals, art, colorful posters, IPads, and other language aid tools, Haida Roots will offer language instruction to local high school students. While at-home learning is necessary because of COVID-19 restrictions, it is also a wise practice passed on by fluent-speaking Haida elders and linguists to encourage language learning and retention for the long haul.

The historic cultural decimation, relocation, and genocide of Native people in the United States have caused generational trauma, rendering many Indigenous folks invisible. Language loss is one piece of this. For example, mandated boarding schools for First Peoples caused several generations of Haida elders to not teach or pass on their language to youth. As the elders get older, it is even more pertinent to document Haida vocabulary, pronunciation, and songs.

Haida woman dancingThis work is also significant for urban Indigenous communities, who became disconnected from Native lands after the US government forcibly relocated them. Eventually, they settled in cities like Seattle, far from tribal homelands. These Indigenous community members created safe spaces in their homes to immerse themselves in their language. It’s an aspect that has been crucial to continual healing.

“We see healing when we can just speak and sing in our language and just be our Indigenous-selves,” shared Sondra.

Other programs at Haida Roots aim to build healthy cultural (and language) connections between youth and elders. The elders mentor, while the younger generations support the greater community as they learn how to use technology. Together, they create books and works of art. “We need to teach the youth our endangered language now so they can teach the future babies and generations,” Sondra shared.

In that spirit, Sondra shares her passion for this work.

“This is how the Hawaiians saved their language,” she emphasized. “They focused on teaching the youth and created safe language immersion spaces. They are leading the way and teaching many people how we can save and speak our ancient languages once again. Second language learners will create first language speakers.”

If you would like to learn more about how Haida Roots’ shares language and ancestral love, we invite you to watch this Youtube video.

The full list of N2N’s Fall 2020 grantees are listed below:

  1. Cultures United Football Club*: To support youth and young adults of color engaged in a White Center-area football club to develop a podcast series that will build their leadership skills, promote positive messaging, and decrease COVID-related isolation.
  2. Dancing in the Rain Media**: To support a youth media team to live stream current events, community discussions, equity/social justice teach-ins in South Seattle focused on the needs and interests of the Black community.
  3. Haida Roots*: To support saving the endangered Haida language, especially for youth in Seattle, by providing immersion space curriculum and the foundational elements to hold a first-ever Haida online language class in conjunction with Seattle Schools World Language and Native Education departments.
  4. Immigrant Guide*: To support 4 virtual community dialogue sessions and related youth videos designed by and for Ugandan/Kenyan/African immigrants based in Kent and South King County focused on the intersection of racial equity & mental health, sexuality, housing, and drug abuse.
  5. New Connections of South King County*: To support the “Connect Over Coffee” facilitated series, a weekly place for formerly incarcerated Black and Brown members from Kent/South King County receive resources, get referrals, and find support with one another in order to re-enter back into the community.
  6. Pacific Islander Community Association: To support Pasifika youth in the Kent/SKC area to participate in a facilitated “Youth Navigators” cultural stewardship, mentorship and community engagement project at a nearby farm focused on food justice and sovereignty.
  7. Safe and Sound Studios at LEMS*: To safely empower women of color to be creative and progress technical skills while fostering social justice through art and music at a studio in their community of South Seattle.
  8. Salsa de la Vida*: To support the leadership of Latina women (Promotoras) in South Seattle to formally development the Salsa De La Vida cooperative model at their South Park farm.
  9. Seattle Rideshare Drivers Association*: To support a series of five workshops of largely immigrant and refugee rideshare drivers so they can gain an understanding of how to operate under the City of Seattle’s new Fare Share Plan and to organize responses to the City’s driver survey.
  10. yəhaw̓ Indigenous Creatives Collective*: To support the Black lives and COVID solidary movement by creating online exhibitions “Telling Our Own Stories” and “Being A Good Ancestor”, curated by Brit Reed (Choctaw/Black), featuring artists of Indigenous as well as mixed Afro-Indigenous descent.

*First time grantee of N2N
**First grant ever received by the organization

Seattle Foundation’s Neighbor to Neighbor program supports grassroots efforts that increase engagement, power, and influence of community members affected by poverty and racial disparities. We invite you to learn more about the history of the program by watching this short video. You can also read about Seattle Foundation’s Center for Community Partnerships, which houses N2N. 

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