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Sealaska Mourns the Loss of Xaad kíl Birth Speaker Jane Kristovich (K’ujúuhl)

One of the few remaining birth speakers of the Northern Haida dialect of Xaad kíl, Jane Kristovich (K’ujúuhl), joined her ancestors on August 18, 2021 at the age of 93.

Kristovich was a treasured speaker of Xaad kíl who gave her time and knowledge generously to generations of her people through her involvement with language and dance groups, community events and even on film.

Kristovich was born in Massett, B.C. in 1927. Her maiden English name was Adams. She is the older sister of Haida Elder Dolores Churchill, and the two were featured in the Canadian feature film “Edge of the Knife,” in 2017. Co-directed by Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown, the film was the first to be spoken entirely in the Haida Language. Kristovich enjoyed the emphasis of full immersion and continued to speak primarily in Haida with her sister until her passing. She also lent her voice to the documentary film featuring Robert Davidson called “Now is the Time.” This documentary film was directed by Christopher Auchter and released in 2019.

As a young girl, Kristovich placed herself among the elders in her family in Massett, listening to and retaining her heritage language. When, as an adult, her life took her far from her homelands to live in Indiana, she would narrate her daily chores and activities to herself in Xaad kíl to practice. When she reached her elderly years, she moved to Washington state and befriended other Haida elders in the area and continued to speak her language.

Náanii Jane, as she was known, gave her knowledge and support to numerous language conferences and projects. Recently she gave Haida names at Hydaburg’s Xántsii Náay Immersion School graduation in Hydaburg. In Washington, she was also an active volunteer with the group Haida Roots Language and Youth Arts Program. Her voice is captured on dozens of videos available on YouTube and Facebook sharing various phrases, stories and songs.

“It was a distinct honor to be in her presence and hear her wit and wisdom,” said Ben Young, who is the director of Xántsii Náay Immersion School. “To experience her bold advice along with her kindness and humorous comments was absolutely grand. Her legacy will live on through the voices of our Haida children. They will carry her sarcasm, songs, stories, prayers, and the love she had for them in their hearts.”

Sondra Segundo is the founder of Haida Roots, a Seattle-based nonprofit that connects local Haida to resources and opportunities for sharing culture and learning Xaad kíl. She shared the following reflections and a poem in Xaad kíl.

“Jane Kristovich was my Haida language teacher/mentor,” Segundo wrote. “I was starving and Jane fed me. I was insecure and Jane encouraged me. The journey of re-learning our language can be frightening, but just being in Jane’s presence made me feel welcomed and at peace. 

“Ben Young introduced me to Jane. It was the first time hearing anyone speak Haida in a very long time. It healed my broken heart. From then on, this beautiful and wise Eagle took this Raven under her wing. Every moment with Jane was precious. She told the best jokes that made us laugh from our bellies. Now her love for us can be felt beyond realms. 

“Jane’s love and teachings will continue to nurture the new generations of Haida language learners/speakers for many years to come.

Ja haw’áa Jane uu Xaad díi sk‘at’atgán. Thank you so much Jane for teaching me Haida.

Dáng salíi díi Gitsáang. I will miss you.

Dáng salíi íitl’ Gitsáang. We will miss you!

Dáng díi kuyáadang. I love you.

Dáng íitl’ kuyáadang Jane. We love you Jane!

Kastovich was a mother to five children, and is survived by two of them. She is also survived by eight grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, eight great-great grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.