Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

Nkwusm mixes fun with learning with its honorable charge

By B.L. Azure

Who needs swings? The young ones at Nkwusm — like all youngsters this age — are attracted to dirt like moths to light; it’s in their DNA. (B.L. Azure photo) Who needs swings? The young ones at Nkwusm — like all youngsters this age — are attracted to dirt like moths to light; it’s in their DNA. (B.L. Azure photo)

ARLEE - The Nkwusm Salish Language Institute here entered its third week of classes this week and students, teachers and staff there were starting to get into the swing of things this Monday.

The school has approximately 25 students from throughout the Flathead Indian Reservation. The pre-school through 8th grade students come mostly from communities along the U.S. Highway 93 corridor from the Polson-Ronan area in the north to Schley-Evaro area in the south, and all points in between.

Working up an appetite. The older middle-school-aged Nkwusm students take off on a pre-lunch hike to the state fish hatchery along the Jocko River. (B.L. Azure photo) Working up an appetite. The older middle-school-aged Nkwusm students take off on a pre-lunch hike to the state fish hatchery along the Jocko River. (B.L. Azure photo)

This is the 10th year of the Nkwusm Salish Language Institute with the sacred mission of saving the Salish tongue.

The Salish language is currently spoken by less than 50 people, most of them are more than 75 years old. There are no first language fluent Salish speakers under 50.

It is the dream of four young Salish people - Tachini Pete, Melanie Sandoval, Josh Brown and Chaney Bell - to recreate the process of passing the Salish language from parent to child, elder to youth in an effort to holistically preserve the language, perpetuating the Salish way of life and world view. They are the spark plugs that fired up the earnest and concerted effort to save the Salish language that eventually resulted in Nkwusm.

The unbridled energy was on full bloom display this week during the morning recess at the Nkwusm Salish Language Institute in Arlee. (B.L. Azure photo) The unbridled energy was on full bloom display this week during the morning recess at the Nkwusm Salish Language Institute in Arlee. (B.L. Azure photo)

Three fluent speakers - Pat Pierre, Stephen Small Salmon and Gene Beaver Head - are Salish language instructors at Nkwusm. They and their assistants as well as the teachers are charged with incorporating the Salish language with traditional western school courses for the Nkwusm students.

Chaney Bell and Melanie Sandoval are well versed in the Salish language now and are teaching four young adults Salish as part of a grant. Once the four become proficient in Salish they will then participate in evening classes aimed at adults and others interested in learning the Salish tongue.

Youthful, innocent joy as demonstrated by these Nkwusm pre-school students is perhaps the best of the best of the human experience. (B.L. Azure photo) Youthful, innocent joy as demonstrated by these Nkwusm pre-school students is perhaps the best of the best of the human experience. (B.L. Azure photo)

Another part of the Salish language learning is aimed at the staff of Nkwusm that take time during the day to participate in learning exercises.

This year Nkwusm has a new leader with Principal Cassandra Murphy-Brazill and she is looking forward to the challenge.

This Monday, the students and staff were engaged in the regular classes as well as some field learning, and of course playground fun for the younger children.

It all added up to a good time as was evident by the smiles on faces and the laughter in the air.

Nkwusm will be conducting open-house tours throughout the year. They will be announced in the Char-Koosta well in advance so people can mark the calendars and go down and witness the beauty that is Nkwusm.

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