Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

March 8, 2012

Group seeks to save Kootenai language by asking “Where Are Your Keys?”

By Lailani Upham

Evan Gardner, International Language Facilitator, right,  explains a language strategy to the Kootenai 2012 Camp group Saturday, March 3, during a planning and training meeting. (Lailani Upham photo) Evan Gardner, International Language Facilitator, right, explains a language strategy to the Kootenai 2012 Camp group Saturday, March 3, during a planning and training meeting. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — Revitalizing language means revitalizing communities.

That is the philosophy that parallels the viewpoints of both “Where Your Keys” language revitalization teaching system and the Wista’ta Wanmu’is Ktunaxa, non-profit organization.

Wista’ta Wanmu’is Ktunaxa is a group of young Kootenai men and women targeting social issues to support, guide and heighten cultural traditions and keep the language going within the boundaries of the Flathead Reservation, according to Erica Shelby, organization member.

The group hooked up with April Charlo, a local teacher of WAYK language learning technique and International Language Facilitator and founder of WAYK Evan Gardner of Oregon.

“Languages are on the brink of extinction and we have a tool that reverses that trend. We want to share is with as many people as soon as we can,” Gardner stated.

The two organizations are planning a 10-week Kootenai language camp to 30 interns across the country this summer at Elmo Lake Shore. First priority will go to those passionate participants to learn and become proficient in the Kootenai language in a short amount of time and spread the training. The hope is to have at least 10 interns from the seven bands of Kootenai tribes to be accepted and other tribal representatives to jump on board to learn the tools to carry to their own Indian communities, says Gardner.

The camp will run from June 25 to August 25.

The two groups met up to plan and boost community commitment for the pioneer language exhibition on Saturday at Salish Kootenai College campus. The handful of dedicated folks covered a day of working together and composing their own group agreements to assure positive and effective teaching throughout the summer encampment.

Gardner stated the list of agreements were the best he has seen in all the groups he has worked with.

The purpose of the group agreements was to insure a sound and good collaboration of each individual involved for effectiveness in the summer’s language revitalization camp. “We got to make sure the core group is tight and healthy first before going out to teach others.”

Gardner revealed to the group on Saturday that the WAYK techniques and tools have been used a number of years in different communities around the world with certain failures and successes in an effort to keep native language alive. Language and communities are all different; however what he found in areas where language is endangered is that there are problems within the communities – not the language.

Both groups agreed that it’s not all about the “tools” but healthy living as well.

Gardner’s intention is to teach the WAYK method, which is basically played like a game with American sign language and incorporating tribal sign language in where it can be applied.

(L to R) Back row: Kootenai Language “Where Are Your Keys” group, Rebecca Phillips; Ethan Friedlander; and Erica Shelby. (L to R) Front row: April Charlo, Nukinka Manuel, Brooke Swaney, Evan Gardner and the youngest of the group Ki’an Phillips with brand new sibling. (Lailani Upham photo) (L to R) Back row: Kootenai Language “Where Are Your Keys” group, Rebecca Phillips; Ethan Friedlander; and Erica Shelby. (L to R) Front row: April Charlo, Nukinka Manuel, Brooke Swaney, Evan Gardner and the youngest of the group Ki’an Phillips with brand new sibling. (Lailani Upham photo)

“We don’t want it too look like a class or have books to learn from,” Gardner explained. Learning the game is all about real life and real life props, basically things that people carry around every day. Items are laid out on a table and the game begins with repititions and eventually conversations with a precise accent per language.

“We want to give them tool kits and techniques for teachers to return to their home communities to have real and immediate impacts on their respected endangered languages,” Gardner stated.

The lessons in the game are to know what is being taught, by understanding and experiencing the language and not merely translating. Once a person is engrossed in the game with a certain language, English is never used. “You have to prove you can use it (the language). Translating it doesn’t prove you know the language. You have to experience it.” Gardner explained.

“All summer long participants will be trained in specific tools and techniques for learning and teaching languages, as well as how to create a safe, fun and healthy learning environment. Participants will be able to carry these tools with them for rest of their lives,” Charlo added.

The idea of Wista’ta Wanmu’is Ktunaxa organization is to reach for dreams, goals and big ideas that will preserve the culture and change the environment and attitudes to carry on tribal traditions and language, according to Shelby. “We want to inspire people.”

With the camp coming to the area, Wista’ta Wanmu’is Ktunaxa believes the viral system of WAYK will spark up the language in the communities. “We want to find out what works to create change on the Rez. We’ve seen what doesn’t work in the past. We don’t what works and that is why we sought out people that are different and we sought out this program,” stated Shelby.

The group came to a conclusion that much help would be needed from the community to wrap up the stage for the Kootenai 2012 Camp this summer and are asking the community to help in any way they can.

To volunteer any generous help, contact April Charlo at (406) 208-9343, or email her at aprilcharlo@yahoo.com. Or contact Erica Shelby at (406) 207-7095, or email her at e_r_s5@yahoo.com.

For applications to participate in the Kootenai 2012 Camp, contact Evan Gardner at evan@whereareyourkeys.org.

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