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Directing the future of Salish language preservation

By Adriana Fehrs

Chaney Bell (R), SPCC Language Coordinator, gets the crowd laughing at the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee Language Conference on May 21. (Adriana Fehrs photo)  Chaney Bell (R), SPCC Language Coordinator, gets the crowd laughing at the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee Language Conference on May 21. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

ST. IGNATIUS — The Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee (SPCC) held a language meeting on May 21. Individuals from across the community gathered to give updates on language programs, and to discuss the future of language preservation on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

Pat Pierre, SPCC elder, said a prayer in Salish and Stephen Small Salmon, SPCC elder, sang a Salish wake-up song to open the meeting.

Tony Incashola, SPCC Director, set the mood for the day, “Every day is a struggle for us to preserve our language. I that’s something everyone thinks about. We are on the trail though, and I hope we keep it going.”

Vance Home Gun, SPCC Salish Language Instructor informed the crowd with much gusto, “There are 8,000 tribal members, and preserving the language is the most important thing. Right now, all of the leading linguist say that our language is predicted to die out within the next 50 years.”

Sam Buffalo, IHS Behavior Health, addresses his concern at the Salish Pend d’Orielle Culture Committee Language Conference. “Why do people have to stop working in order to learn our language?” (Adriana Fehrs photo)  Sam Buffalo, IHS Behavior Health, addresses his concern at the Salish Pend d’Orielle Culture Committee Language Conference. “Why do people have to stop working in order to learn our language?” (Adriana Fehrs photo)

After a short introduction of the panel, Mali Matt, SKC Salish Language Instructor, was the first to speak on her updates. Matt says there has been a lot of work done in the last decade. Promethean boards, large interactive displays that connect to a computer, were placed in the classroom. “I’ve made over 45 power-point presentations, which has allowed me to hold the attention of my students.” Her students are also learning to type in Salish.

Alec Quequesah, former SKC Salish Language Instructor, left Matt with 210 cultural lessons. With those, she has been able to take her students out to cultural events, such as the annual bitterroot, and conduct teaching lessons simultaneously.

Currently, SKC offers six Salish Language classes: Basic I, II, and III and Intermediate I, II, and III. In each class, students are tested on not only their written ability, but also their ability to hold a conversation in Salish.

Matt says, “When we started, we only had a pile of papers, now there are hundreds of different materials to teach with.” Matt explains they have no long term goals on campus, but wants to create more stable leadership.

Linda Ferris, Title IIV Indian Education Teacher, talks about changes at the Ronan School. The Salish Language class will incorporate history and be retitled Native American Studies.  (Adriana Fehrs photo) Linda Ferris, Title IIV Indian Education Teacher, talks about changes at the Ronan School. The Salish Language class will incorporate history and be retitled Native American Studies. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Lucy Vanderburg, People’s Center Director, said the People’s Center has had problems getting Kootenai language instructors, “It’s on a volunteer basis, so we’ve struggled to keep a constant instructor.”

Vanderburg teaches Salish at the center, but makes an effort to host Salish Elders as teachers. “Different speakers give learners a better understanding of the language,” says Vanderburg.

She says the center offers two-hour classes three times a week. Vanderburg says it is hard for individuals with jobs to attend the classes, but their future goals include offering more classes.

Patty Stevens, Tribal Councilperson and St.Ignatius District Representative, gave updates on Tribal Council actions. Stevens says that about three million dollars to-date has been donated to the Nĺusm Salish Language Institute of Arlee; roughly $416,000 a year. She mentioned that the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee is also funded by CSKT.

Elder Mike Durglo Sr. discusses the future of the Salish language at the Salish-Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee Language meeting."We need every department to support our language," he says. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Elder Mike Durglo Sr. discusses the future of the Salish language at the Salish-Pend d'Oreille Culture Committee Language meeting."We need every department to support our language," he says. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Stevens remarked “We are supporting the language, but as an individual on the Tribal Council, what does that mean?” She went on to say that several tribal councilpersons speak the language. “I’m making an effort to learn the Salish language, and Vern Finley speaks Kootenai and Salish; Leonard Gray is learning the language as well.”

She explained that her latest conversation was about the SPCC. “We can’t just stop funding them.” Stevens says she believes that every CSKT department should have funding to learn Salish.

Stevens says the biggest issue the Tribal Council faces, in regards to Salish language preservation, is funding. “Money is always an issue.”

April Charlo, Executive Director, from the NÂusm Salish Language Immersion School of Arlee gave updates on the school.

All of the Salish language instructors at the school are certified language teachers, Charlo mentioned, and the adult learning classes have been successful – now, the adult learners are helping teach classes.

She says the school has been supportive of taking the students out on educational fieldtrips, and Tuesday and Thursdays are full Salish speaking immersion days. “You can really see the children starting to pick up the language,” Charlo exclaims.

Vance Home Gun, SPCC Language Instructor, leads a discussion on future action steps at the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee Language Conference on May 21. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Vance Home Gun, SPCC Language Instructor, leads a discussion on future action steps at the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee Language Conference on May 21. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Currently, the main issue they face is ‘time’, explains Charlo. “There is never enough time.” They also are considering moving the location of the school, to have easier access to land. “Our current location could be hindering us when we want to take fieldtrips with the students, so we are considering moving, but we would discuss this with the parents first.”

For their long term goals, Charlo hopes to hire individuals that are committee to “making history happen, and bringing the language back.”

After lunch, Chaney Bell, SPCC Language Coordinator, facilitated a group discussion on the responses from the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Language survey. Vance Home Gun suggested that the problem stems from a lack in fluent speakers, “We have about 30 to 40 fluent speakers, and only eight to ten are involved.”

Melanie Sandoval, NÂusm Lead Instructor and Co-founder, suggested that CSKT conduct a Salish language conference, with one week of intense training for Salish language instructing.

Pat Pierre, SPCC Elder, says, “We should prioritize learning the language at the top of our tribal government’s list.” Shirley Trahan, SPCC Elder, agreed, and added, “Every time the tribe gets a grant it should include money for the culture committee.”

Afterwards, Bell asked, “How do we put these into fruition?” Charlo offered to host another language meeting on June 25.

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