To honor the memory of Haida Elder K’ujúuhl Jane (Adams) Kristovich, who was one of the few remaining birth speakers of the X̱aad Kíl Northern Haida dialect, Tlingit & Haida has released a short film documenting her participation in the Xántsii Náay Immersion School graduation ceremony in Hydaburg, Alaska in May of 2021. The film was funded under Tlingit & Haida’s Cultural Heritage & Education department and documents K’ujúuhl giving Haida names to the Xántsii Náay students.
“It was a distinct honor to be in her presence and hear her wit and wisdom,” shared K'uyáang, Benjamin Young, Director of the 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.”
K’ujúuhl, or Náanii Jane as she was fondly called by loved ones, joined her ancestors on August 18, 2021 at the age of 93. She was a treasured speaker who gave her time and knowledge to nurture new generations of Haida language learners and speakers through her involvement with language and dance groups, community events and even on film.
K’ujúuhl was born on December 12, 1927 in Masset, British Columbia. As a young girl, she placed herself among the Elders in her family in Masset to listen and learn her ancestral language. While living in Indiana later in life, she would narrate her chores and activities around the house to continue using the language.
K’ujúuhl was instrumental in numerous language documentation and revitalization efforts throughout her life. Most recently, she was involved in the “Increasing Fluency through Partnerships” project (2020-2021) supported by Tlingit & Haida, X̱ántsii Náay, and Sealaska Corporation. In 2019, her voice was featured in the documentary film, Now is the Time, directed by Christopher Auchter. In 2018, K’ujúuhl participated in the Sealaska Heritage Institute's Voices of our Ancestors Native Language Summit in Juneau, Alaska. During 2017, K’ujúuhl and her younger sister, world-renowned weaver Dr. Delores Churchill, acted in the monumental Canadian drama film, Edge of the Knife, co-directed by Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown, the first film to be spoken entirely in X̱aad Kíl.
“As a language learner and teacher, and especially as a Haida, I feel the losses of master speakers and wisdom bearers Kwíigaay Í’waans Phyllis Almquist and K’ujúuhl Jane Kristovich,” shared Dr. X̱unei Lance Twitchell, Associate Professor of Alaska Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast. “Their contributions to the life and health of X̱aad Kíl are beyond measure, and their absence creates a void that we all must rush to fill with efforts of embracing, learning, using, and creating space for the Haida language. I send my love to their families, and to the communities of speakers and learners.”
In her later years, K’ujúuhl lived in Washington where she became an active volunteer with Haida Roots, an Indigenous preservation, non-profit organization in the Seattle area. She shared her knowledge of the Haida language, cultural perspectives, traditions, and social structure and is captured on dozens of videos available on YouTube and Facebook sharing various phrases, stories and songs in X̱aad Kíl.
"It was an honor to be Jane's apprentice,” shared Sondra Segundo, Founder of Haida Roots. “Every moment with her was precious. I've learned so much from her and will help carry her teachings and love for our Haida people, language and culture on to the next generations."
Even during a global pandemic, K’ujúuhl remained committed to using X̱aad Kíl and would connect virtually with students and her sister Dr. Delores Churchill.
K’ujúuhl was a mother to five children, and is survived by two children, eight grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, eight great-great grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.
“Our entire community feels the loss of K’ujúuhl, a language warrior and an incredible person,” shared Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson, President of Tlingit & Haida. “So many are lucky to have known her and to have listened to her wisdom. Our Haida children are blessed to carry on her legacy through X̱aad Kíl.”
Tlingit & Haida is committed to the revitalization and preservation of the Sm’algyax, X̱aad Kíl, and Lingít languages of Southeast Alaska. The loss of K’ujúuhl is deeply felt across our people and communities, especially following the passing of Haida Elder Kwii gáayíiwants, Phyllis Alexander Almquist, who also joined her ancestors in August and was a fluent X̱aad Kíl speaker.