National Weather Service Discovers Haida Gwaii

By , June 30, 2011

I’m thrilled that the National Weather Service radio broadcasts have begun referring to the Queen Charlotte Islands as Haida Gwaii, the original name for the islands. I don’t know why they decided to do this, but it’s very appropriate. As pretty as many of the northwest coast place names are, it’s a shame that they’re all Eurocentric, largely named by the explorer Vancouver for every petty British church official and political office holder he hoped to curry favor with. Very few place names carry the originals given to them by the Natives hundreds, even thousands of years ago. Given the complexities of the Tlingit language, I should probably be grateful for that, but on the whole, it doesn’t seem right.

Unfortunately, the weather service’s transition is going to take some getting used to. Haida Gwaii gets mentioned often in our local marine forecast, in the summary of regional developments. Weather brewing in Haida Gwaii, a ways south of the Alaskan border, often affects the entire region. Since the change, we’ve heard the local radio announcers either mispronounce Gwaii (rhymes with “why”) or completely skip it.

They’ll get it eventually, or not—I gave up keeping track of the different ways they pronounce Klukwan, the name of the nearest Tlingit village—but at least the name’s there for them to trip on. That’s progress of a sort.

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