Diane Brown, known as GwaaG̱anad, has lived her life in close relation with the land, waters and wildlife of Haida Gwaii. The remote cluster of more than 150 islands is about 80 miles off the coast of what is now British Columbia. It’s where Diane grew up speaking only Haida, gathering foods from the sea, and learning about medicine plants from her mother. The first lesson she took from her elders, she recalls, was to have a relationship with and a respect for everything.
“There is nothing better for your soul than to eat directly off the beach. The food is a gift from the land and the Supernaturals, who allow us to live here on Haida Gwaii”, states Diane.
A culture and language holder of the Eagle Clan, Diane is the youngest of only 19 fluent speakers of her ancestral language. Serving for 28 years as a Community Health Representative, better known in Indian Country as a CHR, Diane sometimes did 21 home visits a day and primarily to tribal elders.
After retiring from being a CHR, Diane’s real work began. She co-founded the Skidegate Haida Language Immersion Program, along with a small cohort of remaining fluent speakers. Together they developed immersion curriculum and created valuable learning resources that are used today. Now in its twenty-first year, the elders continue to guide this generation and future ones, recently publishing a glossary of more than 30,000 Haida words and their English translations.
She helped create the Skidegate Language Nest, which early on teaches mothers, caregivers and babies the Haida language. And she works with young women to realize their true self-worth and identity.
Diane has always stood strong for her Haida way of life. She has testified in courts, hearings, and gatherings and is not afraid to stand up to powerful forces. In 1985, she was arrested during a high-profile protest of the destructive logging industry, which threatened Lyell Island. Diane and the elders believe that they had to protect this island or it would be like dominoes for the rest of the world.
There is a word in her language that means “to watch over”. “We must respect ourselves by guarding who we are and what we stand for. We are a people of strength,” says Diane. “We owe this legacy to our ancestors and to the beauty of Haida Gwaii. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to pass this legacy on.”
In the words of Diane’s tribal chief: “I rely on her for cultural knowledge, support and prayer. She is a person that anyone would want in their corner.”
Please welcome Legacy Leader GwaaG̱anad Diane Brown from Haida Gwaii.
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They were so sure they could break us and have our land…but we are still here and we still have a relationship with the earth.
GwaaGandad recounts a rich life of tradition in her beautiful homeland. She shares the many names she has been gifted, and the many elders whose lives touched hers. As a very young girl, GwaaGanad’s mother took her to the forest and showed her four medicines and taught her what they were used for. Several years later, her father had an ulcer and her mother sent her to collect one of the medicine plants. She looked around in the forest, intent to get the correct plant. “I stood there and I prayed and I asked for help.” The plant started shimmering and GwaaGanad said, “that was the beginning of my relationship with the earth.”