Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

April 8, 2010

Tribal Council members tour Nkwusm Salish Language Immersion School

By B.L. Azure

Salish language teacher Stephen Small Salmon questions his students in Salish and they answer back in Salish. (B.L. Azure photo)
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 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 families."

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)
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 Salish.

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)
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)
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 development program.

There are currently 30 students at Nkwusm and there have been up to 45 students in past years.

For more information, contact Nkwusm at 726-5050.

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