Bringhurst breathes new life into old native stories 

WHO: Robert Bringhurst

WHAT: Dialogue Café

WHERE: Adele Campbell Fine Art Gallery, lower lobby level of the Delta Whistler Resort

WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 8 at 4 p.m.

There are thousands and thousands of old stories stored away in the languages of North America’s indigenous people but only a few people are uncovering the tales.

Robert Bringhurst is among the handful, blowing off the dust and breathing new life into Haida oral stories that were first written down 100 years ago.

He calls it "just marvelous stuff" that’s just as relevant today as it once was when it was when it passed down from person to person in the oral tradition. And while he admits the stories may lose some spontaneity in his translated form, his work ensures that the stories are remembered and authenticated.

"I think in every good story there are layers of information, there are layers of revelation," said Bringhurst from his home on Quadra Island this week.

"There is the human layer which is something that ties all of us together, something that’ll be essentially the same in stories wherever they’re told. There’s cultural information... that is particular to the culture, the language and the world in which the story is living... and then there’s individual information, the fingerprint of the storyteller himself.

"All of those are extremely important. Every one of those is reason to listen to the story because it’s what we share with all other humans and it’s what distinguishes one culture from another and it’s what distinguishes one human from another."

It’s this sense of value from these old stories that has pushed Bringhurst to learn the Haida language and translate the old oral literature from the turn of the 20 th century, when it was first written down.

"I’m not attempting to order a hamburger in Haida," he joked.

"I want to be able to read the transcripts that were made of the works of the great storytellers."

Bringhurst studied linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has been using it since then. He later moved to Indiana University to work on a degree of comparative literature.

He first began the challenging task learning the Haida language in the early 1980s.

He compares it to studying ancient Greek.

"You can’t learn Haida the way you learn French," he said.

"You can’t go someplace where the language is spoken by everybody. There is no such place anymore."

It can be tedious and challenging work learning a language that is no longer spoken but when the old stories come to life once again it makes the work worthwhile.

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