News Release

Sealaska Heritage Institute

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has released its first-ever children’s book entirely in the Haida language, X̱aad Kíl.

The book, Nang Jáadaa Sg̱áana ‘Láanaa aa Isdáayaan, or The Woman Carried Away by Killer Whales in English, is part of Sealaska Heritage Institute’s award-winning Baby Raven Reads program.

The traditional Haida story features a hunter who successfully hunts a sea otter and forgets to thank the otter for its life. When he gifts the otter to his wife, it comes back to life and swims away. She jumps in after it and is captured by the SGaan, the killer whales. An adventurous rescue begins.

“The story is so ancient but we are still telling it today. The power of oral tradition is infinite,” said Janine Gibbons, Haida artist and illustrator of the book.

The Woman Carried Away by Killer Whales was translated by Skíl Jáadei Linda Schrack and Ilskyalas Delores Churchill. After Schrack did a first pass at translating the text, she consulted with esteemed Haida Elder Ilskyalas (Delores Churchill) to review the translation and help with corrections.

“I am forever grateful for her. 'Láa an sáa Hl gudánggang. (I hold her in high esteem),” Schrack said.

Schrack also recorded audio of the text in X̱aad Kíl so readers can hear the Haida language and learn how to read the language themselves. The audio is available on Sealaska Heritage Institute’s YouTube channel.

The English version of the book was published originally in 2017. No new illustrations were created in the new X̱aad Kíl edition, but minor revisions were made to the design of the book. And with the book written entirely in X̱aad Kíl, without the English translation, it is a whole new reading experience to Gibbons.

“I think people will see it in a completely new way,” Gibbons said.

The book is part of an Indigenous language series that translates previous Baby Raven Reads titles that are adaptations of ancient Raven stories and stories based on oral traditions.

Three books were published in 2020: Aadé S’áxt’ Haa Jeet Kawdihayi Yé (How Devil’s Club Came to Be) and Nax̱too.aat! S’áaxw yéi daané ḵa haa atx̱aayí daat shalneek (Let’s Go! A Harvest Story) translated into Lingít by Tlingit Elder Florence Sheakley, and Am’ala, translated into Sm’algya̱x by the Haayk Foundation with the late Tsimshian Elder Sarah Booth. Audio for these titles can also be found on Sealaska Heritage Institute’s YouTube channel.

The Indigenous-language-only texts were created for the Baby Raven Reads program based on feedback from parents. Families enrolled in Baby Raven Reads will receive the book for free through the program. The book is available for purchase at the Sealaska Heritage Store and at the store’s online website.

Baby Raven Reads is funded through grants from the Alaska Native Education Program and the Administration for Native Americans.

About Baby Raven Reads

Baby Raven Reads is an award-winning Sealaska Heritage Institute program that promotes a love of learning through culture and community. The program is for families with Alaska Native children up to age 5 throughout Southeast Alaska. Among other things, events include family nights where families are invited to join us for storytelling, songs, and other cultural activities. Participants also receive free books and literacy kits through the program.

The program is based on ample research that has shown that Alaska Native students do better academically when culturally relevant content is incorporated into learning materials and classes. The books also help educate non-Native families about Alaska Native cultures and languages, place-based storytelling, and traditional oral literature.

In recognition of Sealaska Heritage Institute's success in applying research-validated practices to promote literacy through Baby Raven Reads, the Library of Congress selected the program for its 2017 Best Practice Honoree award, making it one of only 15 programs in the world to receive the honor that year.

In 2018, the American Indian Library Association chose Sealaska Heritage Institute's book Shanyaak'utlaax̱: Salmon Boy for its American Indian Youth Literature Best Picture Book Award, and in January 2020 it gave Raven Makes the Aleutians an AILA Picture Book Honor award.

About Sealaska Heritage Institute

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. Sealaska Heritage Institute 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.