Haida artist and craftsman Jaalen Edenshaw, with the help of Geoffrey Horner, has created a set of 36 emojis that reflect old Haida stories, Haida expressions, and existing emojis with Haida-style art. (Photo courtesy of Jaalen Edenshaw)

B.C. artist creates special Haida emojis in new phone app

Jaalen Edenshaw says it is one small step to keeping culture and language alive on Haida Gwaii

Those who prefer to communicate by text will now be able to express their emotions in Haida, following the integration of Haida art with regular day-to-day communications.

Haida artist and craftsman Jaalen Edenshaw, with the help of Geoffrey Horner, has created a set of 36 emojis that reflect the Haida culture.

Edenshaw said he was inspired by watching his kids use emoji apps and text back and forth.

“There’s just so much digital culture that is around us all the time and doesn’t really reflect our expressions of communicating,” he said.

A third of the emoji set resembles existing emojis (happy, sad, crying faces) but designed in a traditional Haida artistic style. Nine feature Haida language expressions like K’w! (expression of displeasure), Waahaa, Sah, Juup, and ii!. The remaining emojis represent inspirations from old stories that are still referenced in the culture.

“Hat’an inaas gya stla k’aalaangangs uu iijang, Gaagananuu asaasii sGa Gaadee tla gyaandangs! This is typing for young people, to use on the internet!,” reads the app’s description available on the Apple store.

UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, last censused in 2006, classifies the Haida language, Xaaydaa Kil, (which UNESCO refers to as Southern Haida) as critically endangered.

READ MORE: Tahayghen, Sk’aadgaa Naay host ceremonies to mark new Haida language curriculum.

Edenshaw sees his contribution as one more step in helping the language survive.

“It’s a small effort to keep our cultural stories and language and art used in the regular day-to-day on Haida Gwaii alive. I think it is a fun way to get people interested in our stories and the Haida language,” he said.

Edenshaw’s efforts have been well received since the app launched in late-December. As of Jan. 6, more than 1,000 people downloaded the app, the equivalent of 21 per cent of the island’s population.

Jaalen Edenshaw is a Haida artist most known for his monumental sculpture in red cedar. His major works include the Cormorant Pole, the Jasper Pole and the Gwaii Haanas Legacy Pole. (photo courtesy of Jaaleen Edenshaw)

Edenshaw also acknowledged the work of Horner, who helped him vectorize his hand drawings so they could be digitized into an app. The whole process took several months of on-and-off work.

The app is called Haida Emoji and so far is only available for iPhone, though Edenshaw said he is working to get it on Android as well.

Edenshaw said he will also be working on a second set of emojis and is hoping to collaborate with another artist, whose identity he is keeping confidential for the time being.

In the meantime, the renowned artist is working on a 33-foot long dugout canoe for the island.

Users can search for Haida Emoji on the Apple store to download it and they are g2g!

READ MORE: Endenshaw brothers unveil replica of Great Box


Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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