By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News
In the late 1800s, the U.S. Government deemed it necessary to forcibly remove Native American children from their families and send them to boarding schools. Among the many atrocities that occurred in the boarding schools, Native children were punished whenever they spoke their language. This practice resulted in many tribal nations losing their language completely. After the horrific boarding school practice ended many tribes immediately began to restore and preserve their language.
Lushootseed is the Coast Salish language of the Native Peoples in the Northwest. Primarily spoken in the greater Seattle area of Washington, Lushootseed is the language of the peoples of Puyallup, Swinomish, and of course Snohomish.
In Tulalip, Lushootseed is taught to children early between the ages of three and five at the Tulaip Early Learning Academy. The children learn songs, stories, numbers and animals in Lushootseed. Tulalip also offers their employees and community members Lushootseed classes, showing how important the language is to the tribe.
The Northwest Indian College (NWIC) offers Lushootseed classes to college students in which the student receives five college credits towards a foreign language. In collaboration with NWIC and Heritage High School, the Tulalip Tribes is now offering Lushootseed 101 to the students at Heritage.
In the Lushootseed class students revisit vocabulary learned at a young age and use that as a starting point. Lushootseed 101 has ten enrolled students who have been learning phrases and introductions. After three months into the curriculum students are able to state their name, where they are from, and who their families are. In solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, students even created a Water Is Life video in Lushootseed.
“It is a great way to get back to our traditions and it makes me feel connected to my ancestors.”
– Myrna Red Leaf, Heritage H.S. student
Lushootseed Language Instructor, Michelle Myles states, “They are learning the 101 college level so this will be one of their fulfillments for college. They’re learning right alongside the Northwest Indian College [students]. Our goal this quarter is to have the college students come and speak with the high schoolers, and have our students greet them, so they can see that others are learning as well, and it’s not isolated to the classrooms.”
Tulalip’s effort in preserving their language is outstanding and it is reflected through the fun, respect, and appreciation the students show during class. During an entire class period, the only English spoken was when students needed assistance with a Lushootseed word. And as student Myrna Red Leaf states, “It is a great way to get back to our traditions and it makes me feel connected to my ancestors.”