Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

June 17, 2010

 Top Story

June 17, 2010

Salish Language Camp ties past to present a piece at a time

By B.L. Azure

Salish elders Sophie Haynes and Mary Lucy Parker pass on their beading skills to another generation. (B.L. Azure photo)
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 participants.

Shirley Trahan used modern technology while teaching participants at the Salish Language and Culture Camp at the Longhouse this week. (B.L. Azure photo)
Shirley Trahan used modern technology while teaching participants at the Salish Language and Culture Camp at the Longhouse this week. (B.L. Azure photo)

“Practice, practice, practice if you want to learn 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 repeated it.

“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 teasingly.

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
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 not.

“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 Valley Creek.

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)
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 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 you don’t 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)
Even the young boys were getting into the flow at the Salish Language Camp. (B.L. Azure photo)

“We are so different from the dominant society. We 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 true destiny.

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