X̱ʼunei Lance Twitchell was born in Skagway and now lives in Juneau. He is of Tlingit, Haida, and Yup’ik heritage and carries the Tlingit names X’unei, Du Aani Kawdinook, and the Haida name K’eijáakw. Twitchell is a professor of Alaska Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast and has been teaching the Tlingit language since 2004. He received his Ph.D. in Hawaiian and Indigenous Language and Culture Revitalization at Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo in 2018. His studies are in creating safe language acquisition spaces and achieving revitalization through counterhegemonic transformation, which means a rejection of external definitions and fragmentation and promoting the think the world of the ancestors of language movements. In 2017 he completed a Tlingit language workbook based on the teachings of Richard and Nora Dauenhauer, published through Sealaska Heritage. His grandfather, Gooshdehéen Silas Dennis Sr. of Skagway, was his first teacher.
Daaljíni (Mary Folletti) Cruise is Yanwaasháa from G̱ooch Hít. Her family comes from both Jilḵáat Ḵwáan and Shawkʼushé (Dalton Post, Yukon, Canada). Her father's people and her in-laws are Lʼuknáx.ádi, and her grandfatherʼs people are ̱G̱aanaxteidí.̱ She carries a Shangukeidí name given to her by Kingeestí, which is Xuxʼaawdu.oo, and a Dankʼé name, which is Kasenleiyaa. Daaljíni currently works for Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska as the Lead Instructor and Child Care Administrator for Haa Yoo X̱ʼatángi Kúdi (Our Language Nest), which is a preschool program in which all instruction is carried out in the Tlingit language. Daaljíni has three children, Ḵindzéi, Shaanákʼw Saayí, and Ḵaaltí, all of whom are traveling on a language journey with her. Her family resides in Juneau (Dzántikʼihéeni), and she thoroughly enjoys being a part of the language and cultural community.
Benjamin Young lives in Hydaburg and teaches students at the X̱ántsii Náay Preschool program. His Haida name is K’uyáang. He is a Raven of the Yahgw ’Láanaas Clan.
Young learned X̱aad Kíl from his chanáa (grandfather), Claude Morrison Kúng Skíis, a respected Haida Elder who lived to the age of 100. K’uyáang expresses his gratitude for the blessing of his chanáa’s longevity and the patience his grandfather provided while he gained his foundation of X̱aad Kíl. K’uyáang credits his wife, Marita Tolson, for her unwavering support and guidance toward his goal of proficiency.
Over the years, he has also been influenced by sociolinguist Dr. Jordan Lachler and Gwich'in instructor Hishinlai' Peter.
As a teenager, Young taught his first language classes at SHI’s Latseen Leadership Academy. Through other language projects and programs, Young has worked with elders Woodrow Morrison, Alma Cook, Annie Peele, Viola Burgess, Charles Natkong, and Erma Lawrence. Young pays respect to all the "die-hards" who valued our way of life and felt it was important to preserve the language in spite of many obstacles associated with westernization.
In the spring and summer of 2017, Young contributed his time to help create a full feature-length film that utilized the Haida language as its sole medium. This film featured the three living variations of the Haida language to create the movie, The Edge of The Knife. In this film, Young acted, taught, and provided language support to help make the movie a visual and audio feast of Haida culture. He was honored to work alongside fluent speakers Delores Churchill Islkyalas and Jane Kristovich K'ujúuhl.
Young graduated from Butler University with a degree in secondary education and began teaching in 2014. He also graduated with a Master of Arts in First Nations Linguistics at Simon Fraser University. He has had many additional roles in language revitalization, such as language mentor, researcher, and curriculum developer. Young has also served as a cultural specialist with SHI, the Xaadas Kíl Kuyaas Foundation, and the Ketchikan Indian Community, among other organizations.
Skíl Jáadei (Linda Schrack) was born and raised in Southeast Alaska. She is Haida from the Shark House and a member of the Yahkw Janáas clan, Raven Moiety.
Skíl Jáadei is a Term Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Languages for the University of Alaska Southeast and has been teaching X̱aad Kíl at UAS since 2014. She has a Master of Arts in Indigenous Languages and Linguistics from Simon Fraser University, which has been completed and will be awarded in June 2023.
Skíl Jáadei worked for the Ketchikan Indian Community Johnson O’Malley program beginning in 2006. In 2008 she initiated the change of the program from cultural and arts to an emphasis on Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida language mentor-apprentice programs. While Haida is Skíl Jáadei’s focus, she continually advocates for Tsimshian and Tlingit languages and culture.
Her grandparents are the late Dr. Robert Cogo and Nora (Edenshaw) Cogo, who were actively involved with language preservation in the 1970s. It is Skíl Jáadei’s passion and life mission to continue the work of her grandparents and the others that have gone on before us. It is important to her that the Haida language and culture continue for generations to come. “When our children speak our language, it will survive.”
Donna May Roberts’ Tsimshian name is Shu Guyna, which means New Path and is Gganhaada of the Gilu’tsaaw Tribe, House of Niskimas. She was raised by her grandmother, Martha Fawcett Sumner, who was one of the original Tsimshian Pioneers that moved from Old Metlakatla, British Columbia, to New Metlakatla, Alaska, in 1887. Mrs. Sumner was 6 years old at the time and retained her original language for her entire life. Teaching was introduced to Donna May at the age of 13, when an Elder told her she should teach the piano. That became her fall-back occupation throughout her life and fit well with teaching the Shm’algyack language since 1992. She developed a teaching philosophy which recognized that stress could play a major factor in learning and sought to find a method that would cut down the amount of anxiety that naturally occurs in a learning situation, not only for Shm’algyack (the language of the Tsimshian), but for music as well. To that end she has tried many techniques and settled on a method called Total Physical Response (TPR). It uses an approach that mirrors the way children learn their first language. That simple philosophy made sense because all learners acquire their original language the same way. As a supplemental teaching method, she also uses the Acquired Second Language Acquisition (ASLA) method which primarily uses pictures. Currently she is involved with developing curriculum with the Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) method.
David Robert Boxley (b.1981) was immersed in his Tsimshian culture from birth and heard his heritage language from his great-grandfather, Albert Bolton, who was born in 1894. He passed away when David was 10 years old. David Robert’s father, David Albert Boxley, was a fluent speaker as a child and used his knowledge, along with working with fluent speakers, to create new songs for the Tsimshian of Metlakatla, Alaska. David Robert was raised singing those songs, learning to make the sounds unique to Sm’algya̱x. Also, as a traditional carver and artist, he has worked with museums around the world all his life, studying the works of the old masters, assisting with repatriation, and demonstrating art and culture to museum visitors.
Because of the state of emergency Sm’algya̱x is in, learners are forced also to be teachers. David Robert has taken on that responsibility since he was a teenager, teaching culture camps and writing songs sung by dance groups and at potlatches. He has taught Sm’algya̱x at the University of Alaska Southeast and in community courses with his father in Seattle and Metlakatla.
In 2015, David Robert, along with Gavin Hudson and Kandi McGIilton, co-founded The Haayk Foundation, and since have produced many hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of new Sm’algya̱x learning materials, many of which are available on their website to download for free. Through hosting community workshops and immersion events, they have brought fluent speakers from other Tsimshian communities to help in this crucial time and provide learning opportunities for their people. Partnering with organizations like the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, they produced a Bilingual Weaving Guide, preserving the unique style of basket weaving from Metlakatla and the Sm’algya̱x words that go along with it.
In 2016, David Robert participated in SHI’s Haa Shuká Mentor/ Apprentice program, learning from fluent Sm’algya̱x̱ speaker G̱oodm Nluułgm Xsgiik - Sarah Booth. David, and team member Kandi McGilton, spent five days a week with Sarah for three years learning from this kind, patient, and wise teacher. David Robert went from a high-novice level learner to very near low-advanced. This allowed David Robert to take on the responsibility of translating books and songs himself like SHI’s Baby Raven Reads project. However, all the work he or The Haayk Foundation does is checked by fluent speakers.
After Sarah’s passing in 2020, David Robert continued his learning with fluent speaker and hereditary chief Huhuuł - Theresa Lowther, working over Zoom five days a week from her home in Victoria, British Columbia.
David Robert sits on SHI’s Southeast Regional Language Committee and is a vocal advocate for language revitalization.