Northwest Profiles: Saving Salish – Language Revival


Until a few years ago
about the only time you would hear the Salish language
spoken at the Kalispel reservation was on
special occasions. Slowly decade-by-decade,
the language was dying. I didnt hear it very much. Elders like Francis Cullooyah and Stan Bluff grew
up speaking Salish. I heard it all the time. When I was growing up back when I was young the
language was spoken in my house at all times. It was
their first language. But for the next two
generations to follow English was all anyone spoke. You just never had the
community talking and basically the
only place you heard the language was funerals. the Kalispel reservation is
located across the Pend Orielle river near Usk. Small in
size at less then 5,000 acres and small in number
with around 400 members. Of those five were fluent.
The tribe was close to losing its language
all together. All the sudden we came
to realize that hey, there is only about 7 or
8 of us that are left that are able to
speak the language. JR bluff whose father
Stan is one of a handful of fluent speakers at
the Kalispel tribe knew he had to do something. I was the first guy
out of the gate and I was just okay,
I will learn it. His goal – to find five
people, teach them, and learn to be a teacher.
But it wasnt that easy. We were counting, doing
days of the week, colors and I was thinking
basically I dont know if this is going to happen. With no curriculum to
guide him, JR dug in. So all these methods
and these theories and steps we take to ensure
our students learning i didnt have any of that I
just started swallowing it. He found partners
and a new attitude. It did not take very
long for me flip that round and say yah, this
is going to happen. One way JR made it happen was
through the learning nest. A school for adults housed
on the reservation and run by the Kalispel
cultural department. Here students meet five days
a week to study Salish. They are paid to participate.
The goal is to be fluent in the language within three years. Gloria Finley is one of five
students in the class. It is way harder than I thought,
but it is gonna be worth it. She is led by 23-year-old
Jessie Fountain a student of the language
herself. Everyday I am learning something new, still do not
know everything, not even close I just teach what i
know and try to learn more every day. It is a
tough assignment with huge rewards.
When I have days when I am oh my god ya know
it is overwhelming but then I think about the positive
things that will happen ya know, once I am fluent. Gloria wants to teach Salish
someday. Something she is already doing at home with
her son. And Jessie who is expecting her first child. I plan to be the
first to raise my child in the language. Formal class runs until eleven then students take a
break from the books and get to hear the language
from the men and women who know it best. Tribal elders
like Stan and Francis immerse the students in Salish. The sessions are a valuable
tool in learning the language and they give
Stan and the others a chance to do something they
were not doing much before. Speak Salish. It is not just adults. In
Cusick, not far from the reservation JR teaches
Salish at the high school. Students learn
with flash cards. And through song. But perhaps the best part
is acting out traditional tribal stories in Salish. Louie you will be on stage
being young buffalo. I like the stories, like
why there isnt salmon in Pend Oreille river or the
elk monster in mountain its just fun. Students
young and old use computers to sharpen their
language skills. A special program
created just for the Kalispell tribe lets them hear
the words from actual elders. It is one more way JR
is working to ensure the Salish language takes hold. 55 miles away in Spokane, kids kindergarten
age and younger are learning the language too.
At this Salish preschool students are immersed in
it. Larae Wiley started the school as a pilot project.
She gave herself six months. Now it is going strong with
kids as young as two and a half speaking Salish. And it is
not just the little ones. Most of our parents have
not had any language before this experience and
so as part of our program they are required to
learn the language too so that when their
child goes home the child and parent can
practice together. it is the best thing ever
when you can come home he teaches me the stuff that
I dont know, we talk we try to say as much words
as we can. I dont know a lot he knows more than I
do, so we just try our best to make the
conversations work. Crystal Conants
five – year-old son Kale is thriving in the program. He loves it and I love it. From a language that was
nearly gone – to toddlers teaching their parents.
JRs vision and the vision of the elders is
coming into focus. I see young people at the store,
I see them at the tribal office or they come up and the first
thing that they say is (Salish word) which means good
morning or (Salish word) which means good day. I want there to be a time where
basically language is returned, it is everywhere you go we are
conducting business in Salish we are talking
amongst ourselves, we are raising our children in
the language everything we do everything right now
that we speak English we do in Salish. Now with the language growing the Kalispell tribe is
reaching out to other tribes. Hopefully with our
success here it will encourage others and we are
always willing to share what knowledge we have, we
have learned and encourage them that it can be done.
One way they are doing that is at the annual
celebrating Salish conference, which brings together
the five tribes in the area that speak
various Salish dialects. In three short years the
event has grown from around 75 to more then 300 with
young and old speaking Salish. I see basically our tribe
living in the language and we are gonna be that
model for other tribes. Linked by language,
these new Salish speakers are also connecting
to their culture. What language did for
me is it made me feel whole again, it made me feel
like oh this is who I am. I cant even really
explain the feeling that you feel the total re-connection
with who you are and who your people were, it just
makes me feel really good. Our goal was to,
was to cut a path and the make a nice trail
so others can follow. As the journey of teaching
Salish continues for JR, Jessie and Larae there is
hope that one day the classrooms will be replaced
by communities of people teaching the language. To actually start building
a community where parents are raising their children
in the language. A place where generations of
Kalispel kids will grow up knowing Salish first
and English second. Once I am fluent once
my grandkids come up that is all they are
gonna hear from me. For now Stan and the others
fluent in the language are enjoying special moments, like hearing their
grandkids talk in Salish for the first time. it is very
enlightening, very encouraging to hear them. A language at the brink
of disappearing. Growing stronger every day. I keep thinking I bet my
grandmothers and our grandfathers and all these
people are probably looking down upon us ya know
and just smiling at us and happy that this
is happening. I think the whole idea of
elders and people my age and the youth and the
children coming together at all the different
levels and speaking and kind of revitalizing –
making communities again that speak is where that
all comes together.

14 Replies to “Northwest Profiles: Saving Salish – Language Revival

  1.  Kia ora ra koutou.This video reminds me of our own language. Today our language is thriving and can be heard in the homes and on the streets.  Good luck and may yous thrive

  2. This is just fantastic to see people reviving an almost-extinct language. I also like the references they made to "The Coyote and the Buffalo," which we just read in our English class, which is awesome. c:

  3. I wish I could learn our language i am Nooksack which speak Salishan but no one knows how to speak it or are too old to teach us or I can't find anyone to teach me

  4. …….🦊…….it’s only a matter of time before an English major points out how the language program compares with the English language,….then what ‘,…..is it worth it?,……the math refers to one through 1 – 10 ( slandered English math ) it’s not suppose to compare with any other language,…..some of the kids know here on the Flathead ,………..it’s only a matter of time ‘🐾🐾🐾🐾🐾

  5. Book learning languages can make the attempt harder for many people. I hope they also have more immersive methods on tap like Where Are Your Keys.

  6. ..🦊…prepositional phrases ‘,…is how the language was broken down into individual words ,….other then that we spoke by sentences and paragraphs with hand signs ,..the left was definition and the right feed the left ,…( also hidden in stick game ) ,…no native language is comparable to any other culture,…it is now’,…..none of these languages have own weight scale’s ,…..🐾🐾🐾🐾🐾

  7. So proud of people who are learning their native language and making sure their kids are immersed in it. It's so important. These words are powerful because they hold a certain energy that is gone when they are not spoken. Also, many native words describe a type of connection with nature that English and other languages don't have at all. It's a whole layer of experience that is just gone because we don't have a way to explain it. Native languages will help the people with their connection to culture but will also long term help everyone keep their connection to the natural world. I hope some day these languages are spoken so much that non natives also learn these words.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *