|March 13, 2014
April Charlo is new NKWusm Executive Director
By Adriana Fehrs
April Charlo of Dixon, the new executive director for Nkwusm, smiles while she stands with several students outside the immersion school in the snow. (Adriana Fehrs photo)
ARLEE — April Charlo accepted her new role as the Executive Director of the NkWusm Salish Language Institute on February 5. She has high hopes of making her time there a positive mark in history for the Salish language and culture.
Charlo grew up in Arlee. She was homeschooled until the age of twelve by her mother. She says, “Being out on the land, and learning about traditional native ways was always important to me; I became bonded with the natural world.” She continued on to higher education at SKC, where she obtained an associate’s in Native American Studies and a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education in 2009. Charlo went on to further continue her education at the University of Montana, and obtained her Master’s in Educational Leadership in 2011.
After finishing school, Charlo traveled to various places to work. She worked at an Indian charter school in California, and then went on to work at the Sequoyah Indian High School in Tahlequah Oklahoma. She says, “Every job I have had, has been centered around Indigenous people.” Charlo came back to the Flathead Indian Reservation in 2007 to work on the Salish language for the Native American Language Teacher Training Institute at SKC.
In November, NkWusm advertised for the open Executive Director position. Charlo says she saw the ad two days after it came out. “Before I applied for the position, I sought council from several people in the community. I wanted to gauge them, to see if they felt like I was ready for such an important role. I have zero experience running any school, so I needed their support.” Charlo put in her application on December 6, after which, she went through an interview with the NKWusm Board, and two elders from the community. She says, “During the whole process, I prayed, I prayed a lot. I aspired to get the position, but if it creator didn’t want it to be, it wouldn’t happen.” On February 4, she was informed that she had been given the position.
April Charlo stands by a painting of her great-grandfather Chief Charlo. Charlo, the new Executive Director of Nkwusm, has high hopes for the immersion school saying, “This is the most important job in the world to me.” (Adriana Fehrs photo)
Charlo knew coming into the position that the job would take a lot of hard work, determination, effort, and time. She says, “Taking on this role is a lot of responsibility, we have to be committed that this is the most important job in the world. It’s not about getting a paycheck; this has to be a positive mark in the history for our children, and something to look back on and be proud of.”
Charlo takes pride in her management style. She aspires to have a community type leadership versus a hierarchal structure. “Everyone is involved in the decision making process. I have 100 percent transparency - everybody knows my agenda, and I don’t keep any secrets.”
Charlo has big goals for the school. She says, “I’m really hopeful for what can be done here, and what will be done here.” Her biggest goal is to help the school to become a 100 percent immersion school, with all the staff and students speaking fluent Salish. “It runs deeper than just teaching language. It includes culture and a certain way of life. It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to take a lot of determination, spirit, and prayer to get us going in a forward momentum.” Charlo says she is also making a point to inform the community that the school is recognized for the quality education that it has to offer. “We have been told that we are not offering a quality education, but what we are teaching is greater than standardized tests. I was homeschooled until I was twelve, and when I went into the public school system, I did not score well on tests. I had a 2.0 GPA my sophomore year in high school. I scored low on my exams, my ACTs and my GRE, but I still went on to get a Master’s degree. That showed me that tests don’t measure our intelligence and determination. I don’t trust tests to tell students if they are intelligent.” Charlo goes on to say, “Our ancestors wanted was best for us, and were told to put their kids into the public education system in order to be successful, but we can attribute that to our native language dying out. Today, we are teaching our language, because we know that we need our language in order for our spirit to survive. That is what we are doing at NkWusm.”
April Charlo of Dixon, the new Executive Director for Nkwusm, smiles while she stands with several students outside the immersion school in the snow. (Adriana Fehrs photo)
One program at NkWusm that Charlo is proud of, is the adult language class. She says, “The adult learners have been so successful in the past year learning Salish, that they are coming back to teach.” The class started on Monday March 10. They go from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. “I encourage anyone, at any level, to come in and take the class. Don’t be intimidated about the schedule, we can work with anyone on their levels of commitment.”
So far, the staff is hopeful for their future with April Charlo. Steven Smallsalmon, Salish Language Specialist for NkWusm for eleven years, says, “I like that April said ëI don’t know anything’ when she came on board. I knew then that she would be open to learning how to run the school. Our school has been going down hill for a while, and with April here, she will help keep our school open. She has a lot to learn from Pat Pierre and the others here, but I am hopeful. Come back in one year and see what we say about her then.”
For more information on NkWusm Salish Language Institute, a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit organization, call (406) 726-5050 or email them at Nkwusm@salishworld.com
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