Tribal Council members tour
Nkwusm Salish Language Immersion School
Salish language teacher Stephen Small Salmon questions his students in
Salish and they answer back in Salish. (B.L. Azure photo)
ARLEE - Nkwusm Salish
Language Immersion School, charged with the task of saving the Salish
language, was visited last week by four members of the Confederated
Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council, the governing body that funds 40
percent of the school budget. The rest of the budget comes from grants
and private donations.
Council members Carole Lankford, Jimmy Malatare,
Charlie Morigeau and Steve Lozar represented the Tribal Council on the
open house field trip. They and other members of the interested public
took advantage of the monthly open house tours.
Nkwusm director Tachini Pete and curriculum specialist Rosy Matt get a
chuckle out of what can happen when you say the wrong words in Salish.
Tones and inflections can turn the meaning of a word around and that
could be funny or not. (B.L. Azure photo)
Nkwusm Salish Language
Immersion School started out as an idea of four young members of the
Salish tribe, said Tachini Pete, director of Nkwusm.
Pete, Chaney Bell, Melanie Sandoval and Josh Brown all felt the need to
learn and eventually teach Salish as youngsters. And their desire
culminated in Nkwusm as well as the classes
being taught in the teacher education major at Salish Kootenai College.
Pete said as a youngster he would spend time on
the Navajo Reservation, the homeland of his father.
"All my relatives there spoke the Navajo language.
I thought they were all talking about me. My grandparents didnít speak
English at all so I couldnít communicate with them," Pete said. "I
would pray at night that I would wake up speaking Navajo. As I grew
older I had feelings of not belonging to my Salish and Navajo
The feeling shadowed Pete into adulthood, marriage
and family. He wanted to get an education to provide for his family so
he enrolled in Building Trades at Salish Kootenai College. As a
requirement he had to take one Native American Studies class.
He decided then and there that he would learn the
Salish language and enrolled in a class taught by the late Sophie Mays.
Years later Mays would end up working for Pete at Nkwusm.
Pend d'Oreille Elder Pat Pierre said it is the young people that he is
teaching the Salish language to that will be the salvation of the
language as well as the culture and history contained in the language.
(B.L. Azure photo)
Pete said he looked at how Israel promoted the
Hebrew language and how the Native Hawaiians and the Maori tribal
people of New Zealand resurrected their native languages. The latter
two took the route of total immersion teaching. It is the route Pete
and Nkwusm staff use at the school.
However, the students donít just learn the
language, all their courses be they math or science are taught in
Pete said he is still dreaming of the day when all
the Salish people in the community would have access to learning the
Salish language. To that end he is conducting Salish classes for staff
members who donít know the language well. The classes are three to four
hours every day of the school week for six months. "I want all the
staff to have a good base foundation of Salish," Pete said, adding that
when that mission is accomplished he would open the classes to adults
in the community.
Curriculum development staff member Jesse Janssen discusses some of the
in-house produced learning material used at Nkwusm. (B.L. Azure photo)
Rosy Matt, curriculum director, is presently
honing her Salish language skills under the tutelage of Pete. "A few
weeks after being hired I realized that I didnít know as much Salish as
I should," she said. Consequently she is in the process of increasing
her Salish language skills that she first learned in high school.
There are also two adult Salish language evening
classes in Pablo and Arlee. "We want to get them to the level where
they can understand their children," Matt said. Rudimentary Salish
language is being taught in many elementary schools on the Flathead
Reservation. Those classes were not taught a generation ago so many
parents donít understand the language like their children.
These young students at Nkwusm compete in the solving of math problems
in the class of Echo Brown and Gene Beaverhead. (B.L. Azure photo)
"We are hoping that the adult parents take the
opportunity to learn the language so they can talk to their children,"
said Stephen Small Salmon, Salish language teacher at Nkwusm.
Patty Stevens, Nkwusm
Development Director, guided the school tour and stops were made in two
classes, the in-house adult Salish program and the curriculum
There are currently 30 students at Nkwusm
and there have been up to 45 students in past years.
For more information, contact Nkwusm