John Williams Git’Kun

Oil on Canvas, 24 x 30, 1983
John Williams, T’aanuu Kilslaay, Git’Kun
Linguist, Priest, Leader, Educator, Chief

John Williams Git’Kun
  • Hereditary chief of the T’aanu.
  • Born in Haida-Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands)
  • Ordained in the United Church.
  • Contributed to language revitalization in his community.

“My great uncle was a very passionate Haida and a strong supporter of the political direction of the Council of Haida Nation.” - Laurie K’amga

“The Indian way of dealing with people is to respect every individual. I was taught this from childhood by three women who lived in both cultures: my great aunt, my grandmother and my great-aunt on my mother’s side. The people who respect themselves must respect other people.” - John Williams, Git'Kun

John Williams – T’aanu Kilslaay, Git’Kun in his native Haida – dedicated himself to the power of words. 

Unlike the thousands of Aboriginal children taken from their homes, Williams enjoyed his time at Coqualeezta, an Indian Residential School in Sardis, B.C. Despite nearly dying from tuberculosis, he managed to graduate with excellent marks. He returned to Haida Gwaii after graduation and was a commercial fisherman for 14 years before he was elected the Village Manager of the Skidegate Band Council, against his own wishes. He served faithfully and went on to spend several years as the Queen Charlotte Islands’ Vice-President for the Native Brotherhood of B.C., an organization representing the First Nations fishing and shore industry. 

Together with the other leaders of the Skidegate community, Williams was instrumental in the development of the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program (SHIP), compiling lesson plans for Haida Gwaii schools and contributing to a Haida glossary containing over 13,000 words. These efforts to preserve language and dialects helped document the Haida culture, which disappeared as the vocabulary died with the elders. Williams was an inspirational leader, accepting chieftanship of the T’aanuu from his uncle in 2003. He also had other responsibilities to the many advisory councils on which he served. He was a dedicated teacher, and offered people ideas to ponder and vocabulary with which to express themselves.

For more information about First Nations in B.C., resources available at UBC, or information about these individuals, visit the Resources section.