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Language program begins at Salish Pend d’Oreille Cultural Committee

By Adriana Fehrs

A mixture of staff, apprentices, and fluent Salish language speakers pose for a group photo –of whom, mostly make up the Intensive Salish Language Program. Pictured left to right back row: Chaney Bell, John Bunce, Kayla Dix, Echo Brown, Alyssa Nenemay, Elliott Adams, Travis Arlee, Miranda “Likok” Felix, Jackson Adams, Vance Home Gun. Pictured left to right front row: Stephen Smallsalmon, Shirley Trahan, Louie Adams, Tony Incashola. (Photos courtesy of Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee) A mixture of staff, apprentices, and fluent Salish language speakers pose for a group photo –of whom, mostly make up the Intensive Salish Language Program. Pictured left to right back row: Chaney Bell, John Bunce, Kayla Dix, Echo Brown, Alyssa Nenemay, Elliott Adams, Travis Arlee, Miranda “Likok” Felix, Jackson Adams, Vance Home Gun. Pictured left to right front row: Stephen Smallsalmon, Shirley Trahan, Louie Adams, Tony Incashola. (Photos courtesy of Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee)

ST. IGNATIUS — The Salish Pend d’Oreille Cultural Committee’s (SPCC) Intensive Salish Program started on December 22, with the goal of developing functionally fluent adult Salish language speakers.

The newly developed program, consisting of three components – a language instruction program, language commission, and a language certification teacher assessment - began in November after the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee was notified that their grant proposal was accepted by the Montana Indian Language Preservation Pilot Program. The bill, enacted in July 2013, provides $1 million in funding for programs in Montana that seek to preserve Indian languages. The Intensive Salish Language Program received $125,000 to use without any restrictions.

After receiving the grant, the SPCC hired apprentices to go through the Intensive Salish Language Program. Chaney Bell, the Salish Language Coordinator, says there was a time crunch to hire apprentices, because the program will only be funded until the end of September 2014.

A position description was approved, placed, and then advertised through November 18 to December 9. Interviews for the Salish Language Apprentices took place on December 11 and 12. By December 13 four applicants were chosen. Initially, the program sought to hire only four apprentices, but ended up hiring eight apprentices total, all of whom are adults.

The staff for the program includes: Tony Incashola, SPCC fluent speaker and Head of Program; Shirley Trahan, SPCC fluent speaker and Salish Language Specialist; Chaney Bell – Salish Language Coordinator; and Vance Home Gun – teacher.

The program uses a curriculum based on materials developed by Chris Parkin of Kalispell, and the Kalispell Language Program. They use a variety of methods to teach Salish, from online materials, books, CD’s, repetition and review, to elder and student immersion. Chaney Bell says, “(Our apprentices are) going through class, being around fluent speakers, you can’t just have one (method). Fluent speakers fill in the holes; they are the key to the program.”

The apprentices of the Intensive Salish Language Program sit around their teacher Vance Home Gun, while Louie Adams stands watching. (Photos courtesy of Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee) The apprentices of the Intensive Salish Language Program sit around their teacher Vance Home Gun, while Louie Adams stands watching. (Photos courtesy of Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee)

All classes are taught at the SPCC Long House in St. Ignatius. The apprentices spend Monday through Friday doing two hours of instruction, one hour of immersion – speaking with fluent speakers - and one hour of student immersion – speaking with other students. The students are assigned to complete homework everyday, take weekly quizzes, complete computer-based language programs, and take monthly tests. Each student is required to pass with an 85 percent. Fluent speakers such as Stephen Smallsalmon, Alec Quequesah, Pat Pierre, Louie Adams, and Felicity McDonald help the program by conducting immersion sessions with the students. Chaney Bell says, “Our ultimate goal is to take these young adults and create fluent speakers. They will be the ones later on teaching at the immersion schools.”

The second part of the program involved the development of a Salish-Pend d’Oreille Language Commission (SPLC). This component consists of a group of fluent speakers whom meet on a regular basis to cover issues that deal with the Salish language. This involves an array of tasks such as developing new words, assisting in the curriculum and development of books, and deciphering the meaning of old Salish words.

The third component of the program deals with the updating of Class Seven Certification Teacher Assessments. This involves a different assessment of individuals’ language level those of who learned Salish as their second language in order to track their progress better and to help aid in their language development. This part of the program aims to provide students with teachers who have sufficient competency in the language.

Already, the students and staff are seeing results from the program. Tony Incashola says, “It’s a program I see working. I’ve been here 39 years and we’ve tried many different methods for teaching the language, and this is the first one successful method.” Likok Felix, a Salish Language Apprentice, says, “It is an intense program. It really makes you efficient in the language, (no matter) what level you are at coming into the program.”

Chaney Bell says that the program is much needed right now. “There is the potential for the language to be gone if nothing is done now.” Tony Incashola says, “It’s much needed. (The Salish language) is the foundation of who we are. Without language, we don’t have a true identity.”

A future goal includes extending the program to at least a two-year intensive language-teaching program. Chaney Bell says, “We are looking at a new budget with Tony, Shirley, and Thompson (Smith, SPCC History and Geography Projects) to keep the program going. A recent Salish-Pen d’Oreille language survey was conducted in order to help develop a strategic plan. Chaney says, “Right now, we are looking at other grants, and tribal council for funding,” and “once we are nearer to the end of the program, we will have a better idea of how we will carry on.”

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