Salish Language Camp ties
past to present a piece at a time
Salish elders Sophie Haynes and Mary Lucy Parker pass on their beading
skills to another generation. (B.L. Azure photo)
ST. IGNATIUS — The Salish language is the tie
that binds generations from time immemorial to the present generations.
Within it lies the code of the unique identity of the Salish people
that was derived from their time immemorial cultural and spiritual
ways. Within it lays salvation.
This week the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture
Committee conducted its Salish Language and Culture Camp at the
Longhouse here. Folks of all ages were in attendance, all seeking a
better grasp on whom they are as a member of the Flathead Nation.
It was a mix of ages old wisdom and modern
technology. Salish language instructor Shirley Trahan used a MacBook
Pro computer loaded with the Salish language font to instruct
Shirley Trahan used modern technology while teaching participants at
the Salish Language and Culture Camp at the Longhouse this week. (B.L.
practice if you want to
the (Salish) language,” Trahan told her curious charges this week.
Trahan using a power point presentation would
display the word in the Salish font on a big screen then pronounce the
word in Salish then the Salish Language Camp participants would repeat
after her. She would tell the participants what the word meant in
English. Then she would do it again and again and again before moving
on to the next word. Once she went through the day’s lesson plan she
“You have to practice, practice, practice,” she
said again. “That is why we are here.”
When it came to the end of the day’s lesson the
Salish word “lemlmts” for thank you came on the screen. “Lemlmts,
that’s what I expect to hear a lot of this week,” Trahan said
The Salish Language Camp isn’t just about just
about the language, although that is the cultural and spiritual
foundation of the Salish people, it is also about their life cultural
ways, artistry and craftwork. All melded together since time immemorial
to sculpt a people unique in their time and environment.
Ancestry skills instructor Tim Ryan showed the fellows at the Salish
Language Camp how to make cedar baskets. (B.L. Azure photo
Lisa McDonald Beaverhead said she
learned how to
tan hides and traditional bead from Agnes Oshanee Kenmille and Agnes
Vanderburg. Both of the women were recognized nationally and greatly
admired by the folks of the Flathead Nation for their traditional
skills and motherly demeanor. They have gone on but their legacies have
“I used to take these things for granted but I
have come to realize how important they are,” Beaverhead said. “I also
realize I have the talent to do this. This is a hard way of life but it
is rewarding in a lot of ways.” Tony Incashola, Director of the Salish
Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, said the idea of the Salish Language
Camp began at the persistence of Agnes Vanderburg. The first few camps
were held at the Agnes Vanderburg Camp along the pristine banks of
Now teaching and saving the language has become a
priority of the SPCC as well as the Salish tribe in general. The Salish
Language Camp is a part of the language saving mission.
“The language is so important to maintaining our
identity. It is who we are,” Incashola said, adding that the salvation
of the tribal identity has come against amazing odds. The Western
efforts to assimilate tribal people might have been accomplished had
the languages died. In some cases the languages were wiped out and
those tribal people lack the real connection with who they are as a
people. However, it did not happen to the Salish people and they
survived, he said.
Lisa Beaverhead continues the ages-old artistry of beading as well as
traditional hide tanning and shares her knowledge at the Salish
Language Camp. (B.L. Azure photo)
“Our language is the base of who we
are as a
tribal people. Because of our language and its link to our culture we
exist today as a nation,” Incashola said. “No matter how much or how
little we know of the language it still is something we have saved that
gives us our identity.”
It is a savior.
“There are a lot of kids out there that don’t have
the opportunity to learn this,” he said. “When that happens they don’t
really know who they are, where they come from. When that happens they
create their own identity. They want to belong to something.”
Without positive guidance and the deep-rooted
tribal identity young people can easily be led astray, he said. That is
why it is so important to continue to offer avenues to learning the
language and the cultural ways of the tribes. It can be the immunity
against negative behavior when the young embrace who they are and how
unique their history and cultural ways are.
You are never too advanced in age to learn new things as tribal elders
Pat Pierre, Octave Finley and Eneas Vanderburg demonstrated at the
Salish Language Camp. (B.L. Azure photo)
“You can’t change who you are, even if
fully understand who you are,” Incashola said. “We exist surrounded by
the dominant culture of non-Indian people. The more we try to be like
them the more we lose who we are. That’s why it is important to teach
these things especially to young people because if they don’t get their
cultural base from us they get it elsewhere.”
In the past many tribal people had to go elsewhere
to make a living. Now many of those people are coming back to the
Flathead Reservation for various reasons. Incashola said he gets a lot
of calls from people moving back to the Rez and they want to learn
about their culture. “They are searching for their identity that they
lost or were not able to practice off the reservation,” he said. “They
are seeking their true identity.”
That is one reason for the culture camps and
participants range in age from babies to elders. All seeking to learn
what they don’t know or reinforce or add to what they already know.
There is strength in numbers.
Even the young boys were getting into the flow at the Salish Language Camp. (B.L. Azure photo)
are so different from the dominant society.
have adapted but we have things to offer, our ways, that are just as
valuable as those of the other cultures,” Incashola said. Perhaps the
most dominant trait of tribal people is their reverence for the natural
world and the need to protect for those yet to come.
And thanks to the tenacious vigilance of those who
have gone on the Salish people today have something to nurture and pass
on for those yet to come.
“I have seen a lot of change in the last 30 years
or so,” Incashola said. “They are positive changes as more and more
people want to learn the language and culture of the Salish. They want
to know who they are and where they belong. They understand the
importance of maintaining the ties to their culture. Back in the 1950s
and ‘60s people had to hide who they were. The dominant society was
trying to take our ways of life away. It was all about control but now
we are in control.”
And that control equates to salvation. It ensures