The first-ever Lushootseed Language Institute at University of Washington-Tacoma came to an end on Aug. 12 and by all counts it was a great success. Attracting 25 students with a range of experience in the language, from beginners to Lushootseed teachers, the two-week immersion program has produced this many more people who now have a heightened knowledge of the language to share with others, thus creating more people to keep the momentum going in the Lushootseed revitalization effort.
“I enjoyed it very, very much. From the first day you could feel the energy in the room,” said Zalmai “Zeke” Zahir, consultant with the Puyallup Language program from the University of Oregon as the lead language teacher of the Lushootseed Language Institute. “We had people conversing for 50 minutes at a time and some of those people had never spoken the language before or even heard it.”
The Lushootseed instructors included Zalmai Zahir, Amber Sterud-Hayward, Archie Cantrell, Stephanie Jackson-Louis, Chris Duenas, Lenissa Grover and Angela Wymer (Snoqualmie Tribe). In addition, UWT faculty Danica Miller and Jessica Kiser taught courses on tribal history, language advocacy and learning methods. The curriculum included guest speakers, drumming and singing, linguistics, conversation, reclaiming domains, video production and student presentations.
UWT Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies Danica Sterud-Miller said the Lushootseed Language Institute was the best thing she has ever been involved with in her academic career. It completely exceeded her expectations she said, particularly in how emotional of an experience it was for her, the teachers and the participants.
“I hadn’t expected the amount of healing that took place through returning to the language and what that meant for a lot of the students to heal from the trauma of language loss and how that affected their parents and grandparents. That was really powerful and something I’m still trying to process.”
She said that more than a few tears were shed. “It was really powerful and shows why our indigenous languages are important to us. There is so much rooted in it – trauma from the eradication of indigenous languages through boarding schools and other things that taking it back started the healing process. I have so much respect for the students – they’re so brave.”
The Lushootseed Language Institute leaders all expressed deep thanks to the Puyallup Tribe and Tribal Council for supporting the Lushootseed Language Institute endeavor.
Chris Duenas taught a class on video production, helping the students create short videos in Lushootseed on their cell phones that were then shared with the class.
“Seeing what people were creating and having a part in that was the best thing – it’s inspiring toward using the language yourself,” he said. “There’s something about seeing all these people, whether they had a lot of experience or little experience, coming in two weeks ago and then making videos and sharing their speaking Lushooteed.”
An important outcome of the classes is that the students learned how to establish Lushootseed domains, or “language nests,” in their homes, where no English is spoken – only Lushootseed. To keep what they learned fresh in their minds, the students learned how to self-narrate during activities they do in their lives every day like making coffee, brushing their teeth, frying an egg, and reclaiming those activities, or domains, for the language. Posting household items with labels helps to keep Lushootseed words visible as well as for others in the house, especially children.
“The most valuable tool that I’m going to take back is to make language nests – to be able to go into my home and label absolutely everything and start self-narrating language so that everybody in my home gets comfortable with it and in turn will create more teachers because they’ll be able to share the language,” said Angela TurningRobe (Quinault). A language teacher at the Muckleshoot tribal school, Angela TurningRobe learned new ways to teach Lushootseed. “With my students I’ll be doing the same thing in the classroom, making it a language nest, labeling everything and doing narrations for the kids about how to wash their hands things like that.”
Lena Purser-Maloney, Language Program Coordinator for the Suquamish Tribe, said that the classes gave her the confidence to be comfortable self-narrating in the language while she does things around her house.
“I love the idea that it’s okay to self-narrate. I was always a little intimidated to self-narrate as I’m doing things because it just sounded weird but it’s okay to be weird. It brings back the language.”
Zalmai Zahir pointed out that it is a misconception to think that two people are needed to keep a language alive.
“People say you need two people to keep a language alive but no, you don’t. As an individual you can choose to speak the language. The other thing that’s crucial is not just reclaiming activities but reclaim it into a certain portion of their home and give that area back to the language – put up a sign that says ‘No English in my kitchen’ and that’s what you call a language nest. You’re giving the language a home where it can live and breathe. Once that happens, then everything falls into place. That’s critical – to have that language nest. Everything leads up to that. Once you have a language nest, when people come in the nest they have to speak the language.” Like going to France where French is the language, language nests establish a place to go where only Lushootseed is spoken.
Another important aspect of the classes was for each student to develop his or her own individual language program.
“What works for you may not work for the person next to you,” Zalmai Zahir said, noting that he encouraged the students to not use him as a teacher but rather as a resource to develop their own language program.
“What I see when I take that approach is that people really enjoy it because they’re creating their own program,” he said.
In the second week of classes, Zalmai Zahir noticed that the students really started to take over and speak the language, which showed that a two-week immersion was the right amount of time for the Lushootseed Language Institute. Now it’s up to the students to take what they’ve learned and keep going with it.
“What I’m looking at for language revitalization now is how many of these 25 people are going to be using it in three months, six months and a year. That will tell me whether this is successful – not in terms of we taught it but did we affect language revitalization.”
As one of the foremost Lushootseed language speakers and teachers, Zalmai Zahir said he has a dream.
“I’m 53 now and in 17 years I’m going to be 70. I want to see a good 50-100 people speaking Lushootseed for at least an hour a day. I want to see five to 10 language homes where English is not allowed and I’d like to see some full immersion classes in the pre-K through 12 system…and parents raising their kids in it.”
He said that right now he knows of about 30 people who are doing these things.
“We’re 30 percent there so this goal I have is reasonable and attainable.”
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