Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

January 5, 2012

Native language and cultural survival could use AlterNative Soulutions

By Lailani Upham

Katie McDonald and Zane Foster perform in the “Cow and Monkey” play last summer. AlterNative Soulutions, a new non-profit organization plan to produce local plays performed only in Salish and Kootenai languages with recent grant funding from First Nations Development Institute in the near future. (Courtesy photo) Katie McDonald and Zane Foster perform in the “Cow and Monkey” play last summer. AlterNative Soulutions, a new non-profit organization plan to produce local plays performed only in Salish and Kootenai languages with recent grant funding from First Nations Development Institute in the near future. (Courtesy photo)

PABLO — Native languages carry unique philosophies, histories, ceremonies, and irreplaceable environmental knowledge that has been passed on generation after generation. Languages constitute both the core and the foundations of tribal identities and cultures by mapping ancestors’ worlds and ties to traditional homelands and the now, and yet it is threatened into distinction.

More than 70 of the remaining 139 Native languages throughout the United States could fall silent in the next five years unless immediate action is taken to teach the younger generations in tribal communities, according to a study conducted by Cultural Survival, a worldwide organization working to save and revitalize language.

Language revival is alive and well on the Flathead Reservation through creative ventures and projects including a new organization called, AlterNative Soulutions.

AlterNative Soulutions, is an emerging non-profit striving to promote a stronger sense of community, cultural awareness, understanding while fostering improved interactions through a sense of unity and healthy living.

It has been 50 years now since the U.S. government ran boarding schools on and off Indian Reservations that were designed to destroy Native tribal languages and culture and turn Native children into “white” children by removing them from their families and elders. The aim was to break the cycle of the language transmission. Children were punished and often beaten if they spoke their language. They grew up choosing not to speak their native tongue to their own children out of fear — the aim was accomplished and the language began to die.

However, the language has not breathed it’s last breath – a handful of elders still speak the Kootenai and Salish language on the Flathead Reservation nevertheless, it will disappear, taking with it tens of thousands of years of accumulated cultural heritage, sophisticated environmental understanding, spiritual traditions and a precious aspect of humanity, if it is not continually taught in every measure within a community.

AlterNative Soulutions, recently received a $19,400 grant from the First Nations Development Institute of Longmont, Colorado to support efforts of new project called, “Share the Story Project”.

Goals for the “Share the Story” project is to train tribal youth with interviewing techniques to collect recorded interviews of community members, according to Josh Brown, AlterNative Soulutions Director.

Brown says, ideas and themes from the interviews will be incorporated into creating, producing and delivering three original theater productions all performed in the Salish language. “All of this will be done with the hope of promoting greater awareness for the need to carry out tangible action steps in order to perpetuate the Salish language and culture,” Brown stated.

Brown says, the motivation for the project was when he saw a local high school play a few years ago. “I watched Rose Bear Don’t Walk perform the lead. After the show I was talking to some folks about the play and one little girl stated she wished there were Salish language plays. After this comment, I thought it was time to begin writing and staging plays in the Salish language.”

The early stages of the project participants will gain an understanding of local language efforts and including other efforts worldwide, Brown says. “Through the process of interviewing, youth participants will come to understand better the thoughts of many people from the Salish community about the Salish language and culture.”

The hope is to lead students to explore their own thoughts and beliefs about the Salish language and culture, Brown explained.

Brown says, another facet of the project includes writing and producing original plays in the Salish language.

St. Ignatius High School student Rose Bear Don’t Walk states, “After acting in a couple of Salish plays last year, I look forward to refining my Salish pronunciation and just having more fun with it!”

Lucy Vanderburg, People’s Center Director, fluent Salish speaker and co-writer says, “While some of the kids may have struggled with their previous lines, it brought me great pleasure to see them all be so brave and have fun acting in the plays. I look forward to watching their next performances.”

“We are hoping that these new plays dazzle and give audiences and actors alike a chance to enjoy the Salish language in another format,” says Brown.

For more information please contact Joshua Brown at (406) 833-2422, or email at spelqwa@yahoo.com.

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