Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

2014 Celebrating Salish Conference was a great learning experience

By Shelly Fyant

I attended the 2014 Celebrating Salish Conference in Spokane on March 4-7. This year’s theme was “We Must Always be Grateful for Our Women”. Tuesday night we were entertained by the Kalispell Ambassadors youth group and the Salish School of Spokane kids. They performed coyote stories in the Pavilion at Northern Quest Resort. This was my first trip to this conference, my first stay at the resort and my first trip as a council member.

I attended a very powerful workshop by Wendy Phillips entitled “Save the language and the Language will save you”. Wendy is the Director of the Inchelium Childcare program and she shared her story and experience, including use and abuse, recovery and healing, on her personal journey to learn her language. She talked about how language transformed her life, healed her soul and how she believes that the language can heal all of our people. Wendy shared one of her writings and it really spoke to me, so I asked her permission to reprint. (See “Grandmother”)

Joshua Brown shared some Salish e-books he created and the software tools and process for creating them. These Salish language books can be enjoyed on several platforms ranging from desktop computers to hand held devices and phones, which all contain pictures, text and sound. Joshua also discussed printing books and offered some low cost solutions using freeware specifically to quickly and easily print books in endangered languages. At the end of Joshua’s presentation, a toddler in the audience squealed in delight; we interpreted this as his stamp of approval. It was the perfect testimony to how our little ones learn. There is a lot of potential for expansion in this area. Josh can be reached at

Felicia Pichette, a teacher at the Spokane Tribal Language Program, shared her “rags to riches” story about her language journey. She overcame obstacles in learning the language and along the way, found her own identity. She made learning fun in this workshop. We played a game that involved identifying colors of balloons, a lot of laughter and ultimately learning three colors in Salish.

The next workshop I attended was the Kalispel Language Intensive: Path, Obstacles and Successes. Jessie Fountain, the Language Coordinator for the Kalispel Language Program, summarized all of the materials taught in the “Intensive” program designed to bring a students from “No Salish” to “Highly Proficient” in 16 months. At age 26, Jessie’s been a teacher for 8 years. Her energy and enthusiasm is infectious. This young lady holds high standards and admits she LOVES tests, and doesn’t use the F word (fluency) in her efforts, rather “proficiency”.

Wednesday evening entertainment featured Salish Karaoke with one youth participant who sang Etta James’ At Last. Winners included Johnny Arlee who performed a Willie Nelson song, JR Bluff sang Hank Williams’ Kaw Liga, and Randy Moses performed Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba. This event alone was worth the trip.

The Tulalip Tribe’s Lushootseed Language Camp was highlighted in the next workshop I attended which is their annual youth camp for ages 5-12. They hold two weeklong camps every summer. Every year for the past 18 years, the Lushootseed Department chooses a traditional story or theme that participants can get immersed in at each of the eight stations. Stations include Play, Songs, Traditional Teaching, Language, Weaving, Art, Technology and Games. Staff shared planning and preparation notes and a DVD of the kid’s closing play performance. One of their elders was honored at the closing ceremony and shared a Lushootseed word, which translated in their language had three parts, none of which broke down to the current English meaning of the word. This illustration of how rich our cultures are was very profound, and gave further meaning to our culture is embedded in our language.

The last session of the conference was the Tribal Council/Leaders Roundtable led by Stevey Seymour of the Colville Council. Council members were asked why they think Native languages are important, if it is a priority in our tribes and what we will do to support those efforts. Council members from Colville, BC and CSKT weighed in on this issue as well as several Salish and Pend d’Oreille people in the audience. Leonard Gray and Patty Stevens also participated in this session on behalf of our Tribes.

Chairman Ron Trahan and council member Lloyd Irvine traveled to Spokane and attended the pow-wow Friday night. Felicite McDonald and Steven Smallsalmon were two of the locals honored.

My intent in attending this conference was many fold. I wanted to see why so many locals rate it right up there with Christmas and their birthday celebrations. I wanted to gauge where our Tribes are in the language revitalization process, especially in comparison with other Salish-speaking tribes. I got the opportunity to visit with Elders, adults and youth whose speaking abilities vary, but their passion for learning/teaching the language is a common factor. I met a lot of people who are very generous with their knowledge; an approach, in my opinion, we could benefit from locally. We have many talented people on our reservation, who are gifted in several different aspects of learning and teaching the language. Now, the challenge remains to pull it altogether, efficiently and immediately, so we can move forward and make significant strides in our language journey on the Flathead Reservation.


By Wendy Phillips

I carry the pain of my ancestors; it lives in my DNA. It dwells in my soul, the pain I’ve carried with me all these years so much a part of me like another arm or leg - my only part of me that for so long has continued to exist without a name. It came to me like an awakening, finally realizing what it was. Being able to put a connection and name to the pain, and where it came from. My ancestors have shouted to me, to all of us, WAKE UP! Do not be asleep in your lives any longer. Your silence has become unbearable! We cannot take it any longer! Wake up our children and take what is yours! Reclaim your souls. The truth will set you free! No longer will you have to be slaves to the alcohol and drugs, and all the snares that have been laid out for you, that you have become prisoners to.

Slowly I awake from my slumber and the confusion, and understand my dreams and visions I had all of my life. Slowly I look up and see the face of my grandmother. I study her as she studies me. I notice the deep lines in her face etched from centuries of worry. I see her eyes as sad as they are brown. Her beautiful ebony hair now streaked with grey and silver. Her skin, brown like mine.

“Oh how I’ve missed you Grand-Mother! As I was such a young child when you took your long journey to be with our relatives and the Great Spirit.”

I look closely in to her beautiful face. I notice the single tear streaming down her check. She opens her arms to me; I crawl inside of her and her into me. I tell her I am sorry for the times she was raped. I am sorry of the times she was beaten for speaking the only language she knew. I am sorry no one could help her when she needed it most.

We hold each other closer and weep for all these sad times. She strokes my hair and tells me she is sorry for all of my pain too, and like herself there was no one there who could protect me. She squeezes me tight, so hard I think I might burst from all the love she is pouring into me. She holds me back so she can look into my eyes as she speaks.

She wipes my tears with her beautiful brown hands, and kisses away my tears. She tells me, “Child, feel your pain as long as you need. Take the time to grieve all that you need to grieve. Do not rush your own healing and process. But please don’t cry for me any longer, because I am happy! I have found my voice and it is you!”

“Go well,” she says, “and do not forget every word you write or say, every experience has a purpose and a lesson for you or someone else. Our flames have been smoldering for many years now, so dimly at times I was afraid it might go out. Rejoice with me now! Because you are the spark and your children the flames. No one can ever put this out, although many have tried! Use your anger and passion in the wisest ways you can. You will be heard but not through violence. One day we will touch another heart that longs for the righteous as we do now. Go with love; go with courage, most of all, my child, go with persistence. Never forget who you are, no one can ever take that away from you. Learn from the map of mistakes from those who have come before you. Be led from the Strength of Within.”

We hold each other closer. She dissolves into me and I into her. Her body is gone but I can feel her spirit burning warmly into my heart and I know we will never be apart again.

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