Lushootseed: Preserving a legacy, teaching a new generation



by Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

The “7th generation” principle imbedded in Native culture says that in every decision, be it personal, governmental or corporate, we must consider how it will affect our descendants seven generations into the future. Long before environmentalists got us thinking about “carbon footprints” and “sustainability”, indigenous peoples lived in balance with the world around them. But then hundreds of years of colonization happened that nearly drove our population to extinction. Yet, still we remain.

Then came the decades and decades of federal policy aimed at forced assimilation for the remaining Native population who were confined to reservations. Policy after policy required children to be removed from their homes and communities, and enrolled in boarding schools where many were punished or beaten for speaking their Native languages. As a result, generations of Native people either never learned their language or lost their fluency in it. Thus, many links to traditional culture and knowledge were broken. Still we remain.




From the ashes of the colonial fire that ravished our people, we endured even though much was lost. The language of our region, Lushootseed, once spoken by thousands of Coast Salish people in Washington State clings to life by the small number of people dedicated to preserving it. Lushootseed’s territory extends from north of present-day Mount Vernon to south of Olympia.

Recent decades have seen a cultural resurgence in Puget Sound tribal communities, including carving, weaving, canoe making, and efforts to revitalize Lushootseed. New tribal museums and long houses have been constructed, and events such as the annual Canoe Journey involve hundreds of participants and thousands of spectators.

Today, on the Tulalip reservation, few elders remain who learned Lushootseed as a first language. In fact, Lushootseed Department Manager Michelle Balagot says there may be only 30-40 tribal members who can speak Lushootseed with some degree of conversational skill. She adds that although that number is incredibly low, the department is working hard to make sure that the language survives, and the next few years will be critical if the language is to be revitalized to the point that children become and remain fluent speakers.

The biggest advancement in preserving and revitalizing Lushootseed amongst Tulalip tribal members has been building an essential staff of Lushootseed teachers whose love for their language and culture can easily permeate through the young minds and spirits of our most precious resource, our children.




This past school year the Lushootseed Department had full access to teach our ancestral language to the kindergarten classes and one 1st grade class at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary School. It was the return back to a curriculum that had been paused in 2011 when the old Tulalip Elementary was closed.

“We have noticed an increase in student engagement when students have the chance to learn the language that connects them to their heritage. It certainly makes education more meaningful for our students,” says Cory Taylor, Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary Principal. “While the Lushootseed program serves many Native students, it also benefits non-Natives, too. These students have the unique opportunity to develop skills to be culturally responsive. These skills will be beneficial throughout their lives. As students learn about other cultures and languages they are more likely to honor diversity and appreciate cultural awareness.”

Lushootseed language teachers Maria Martin and Nikki St. Onge, known respectfully as Miss Maria and Ms. Nikki to their students, were selected to initiate the language revival at the elementary. They taught three classes individually and one “immersion” class jointly, for a grand total of seven classes.

For Miss Maria and Ms. Nikki, it was an opportunity to perpetuate the many Lushootseed stories and phrases they learned as children, and build upon the legacy of those who came before them.

“My year teaching at Tulalip Quil Ceda was wonderful. I didn’t get a chance to learn Lushootseed in school after I left the Montessori, so being able to go back to the school I attended as a child and teach Lushootseed is amazing,” said Miss Maria. “This means we are growing as a language department and spreading our culture in places we weren’t able to before. Growing up I had a yearning to know and learn my culture, but it wasn’t offered in the schools. For the students that are enrolled in Tulalip or surrounding tribes, Lushootseed is their language, and my hope is they’ll be filled with the same kind of pride I have to know the words of our ancestors.”

“I really enjoyed teaching at Tulalip Quil Ceda. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to work with some of my students, since they were babies when I worked at the child care center in 2011. Then again at Montessori when I first started in the Lushootseed department in 2012, and now moving up with them to kindergarten,” marvels Ms. Nikki. “Not a lot of people get the opportunity to have this experience. It’s really rewarding to watch them grow and develop their own personalities and characteristics, and also teach them such an important part of our culture.



“Growing up at my Grandma Rachel’s house, I was exposed to Lushootseed a little bit with words or phrases like: x̌ʷubiləxʷ (be quiet), gʷəƛ̕əlad (stop it, behave), spuʔ (fart/blow wind), ʔaləxʷ k̓ʷid (what time is it?), hədʔiw (come in), č̓ut̕əp̓ (flea), sp̓əc̓ (feces), sqigʷəc (deer), yəx̌ʷəlaʔ (eagle), sqʷəbayʔ (dog), and pišpiš (cat). I was always interested in learning to speak Lushootseed, but it was never offered in school. When I saw the job advertisement within the Lushootseed Department I was excited. I have always wanted to learn Lushootseed and I love working with kids, so it was a perfect opportunity for me to grow as a person and to give back to the Tribe and community.”

Both Miss Maria and Ms. Nikki having taught Lushootseed at the Tulalip Montessori meant a strong familiarity and trust with their Tulalip students in their kindergarten classes at the elementary. All of their former students remembered them and were very excited to have them as Lushootseed teachers again. The excitement was shared by both teachers as they were able to create their own curriculum and teaching plans for students they knew very well. They knew what teaching methods would work and wouldn’t work with their students already.

Throughout the school year the students learned to play games, some of their favorites being təs-təs  (matching game), ɬiʔɬdahəb (fishing), stab kʷi ʔəsx̌ʷil̕ (what’s missing?), xʷiʔ gʷadsx̌ək̓ʷud (don’t turn over), ʔuc̓əlalikʷ čəd (I win/bingo), go fish, and tic-tac-know. Students completed daily work sheets that taught them how to read and write in Lushootseed while reinforcing many of the vocabulary words they learned at Montessori and the new Early Learning Academy.

Some of their favorite songs they learned are: ʔi čəxʷ syaʔyaʔ (hello friend), kʷədačiʔb čəɬ syaʔyaʔ (ring around the rosy), huyʔ syaʔyaʔ (good bye friend), ʔə tə tib, ʔulub miʔman pišpišpiš (ten little kittens), šəqild st̕ilib (respect song), sʔacus sʔilalubid (head, shoulders), baqʷuʔ stubs (Frosty the Snowman), and waq̓waq̓ st̕ilib (frog song). The students were able to hear stories that were translated into Lushootseed and traditional stories such as “tsiʔəʔ bəšč̓ad” (Lady Louse), “tsi sxʷəyuq̓ʷ” (The Basket Lady), and “Clamming with Lizzie.” They learned to count up to 25 and were exposed to 30 and 40. They have also learned verbs, farm animals, woodland animals, body parts, clothing and so much more.

As the year progressed and the Lushootseed curriculum continued to evolve, so did the students. They developed such a good working knowledge with certain phrases and words that it became common place to hear the young students speaking Lushootseed even when Miss Maria and Ms. Nikki weren’t around.





“It’s difficult to put into words because it’s such an amazing experience to witness, this ownership of language and seeing themselves reflected in their school. It feels like this belongs to them between the drumming, the dancing and morning messages, then coming into class and starting our day with Lushootseed,” stated Mrs. Poyner, Kindergarten teacher and host to the immersion class taught by both Lushootseed teachers. “Having both Miss Maria and Ms. Nikki in the class at the same time I’ve really noticed the students are picking up the language much more quickly. They are using it in other parts of the day, like when we’re teaching math they’ll start counting in Lushootseed instead of English. When we’re doing letters of the alphabet and brainstorming words that start with a specific letter they’ll come up with Lushootseed words. When we are learning new stories with animals in it they’ll call the animals by their Lushootseed name. It’s so exciting to see them apply what they’ve learned into other pieces of their day.”

The teachers are even hearing numerous stories about their students using Lushootseed at home with their parents.

“I have heard stories of the students going home and singing the songs they learned in class and using their Lushootseed words,” says Miss Maria. “Running into parents of my students and hearing that they are reinforcing their Lushootseed at home makes my heart glow.”

Ms. Nikki echoes the sentiment, “Hearing from parents and teachers that students are reinforcing Lushootseed outside of their time spent with me in classroom is probably the most rewarding feeling. It means the students are not just learning a curriculum, they are learning a language, their language.”

Being able to demonstrate what you’ve learned is the basis of knowledge, and the young students using Lushootseed when the teachers aren’t around is proof positive the internal flame to connect with our culture and ancestors through language is being rekindled. It’s all part of an essential process to carry on our ancestors’ legacy by keeping the language alive. Because seven generations from now, we want Lushootseed to be the common language of all Tulalip people, like it was for our ancestors.





Contact Micheal Rios:

Tulalip feels the Bern

Photo/ Nicole Willis


By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News; photos courtesy Nicole Willis

Native Americans are the first Americans, yet they have for far too long been treated as third class citizens.  It is unconscionable that today, in 2016, Native Americans still do not always have the right to decide on important issues that affect their communities.  The United States must not just honor Native American treaty rights and tribal sovereignty, it must also move away from a relationship of paternalism and control and toward one of deference and support.  The United States has a duty to ensure equal opportunities and justice for all of its citizens, including the 2.5 million Native Americans that share this land.  It is no secret that this isn’t the case today.*

“Time and time again, our Native American brothers and sisters have seen the federal government break solemn promises, and huge corporations put profits ahead of the sovereign rights of Native communities.  As President, I will stand with Native Americans in the struggle to protect their treaty and sovereign rights, advance traditional ways of life, and improve the quality of life for Native communities,” states Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has repeatedly acknowledged the need to correct the U.S. history books and openly apologized for the wrongs done to Native people. It’s easy to understand why Natives from all across Indian Country are choosing to ‘feel the Bern’ and rally behind a candidate who honors us in such an honest and sincere manner.

Sanders continues to gain support and more momentum towards his bid for the White House, evident in his holding the largest political rally Seattle has seen since Obama in 2008. An estimated 18,000 people showed up at KeyArena on Sunday, March 20 to show their support for the Vermont senator.

Amongst his horde of supporters were many respected leaders and representatives of Coast Salish tribes, including Tulalip’s own Chairman Mel Sheldon and recently re-elected Board of Directors Theresa Sheldon and Bonnie Juneau.

“For the first time in my life a U.S. Presidential candidate spoke on Native American issues during his national platform. Elevating tribes to the national platform is a big deal,” says Theresa Sheldon. “It’s so important for tribes to be engaged and visible during this Presidential election. Our relationship is with the federal government, therefore we need to be present and participate in the civic process.”


Photo/Nicole Willis
Photo/Nicole Willis


During the rally, five Tulalip tribal members (Theresa, Bonnie, Deborah Parker, Monie Ordania and Justice Napeahi) took center stage to perform the Women’s Warrior song.

“We are thankful the creator gave us an opportunity to sing the Women’s Warrior song from our First Nations relatives at the Bernie Sanders rally,” adds Theresa. “The Women’s Warrior song honors and acknowledges the missing and murdered indigenous women who have been taken from us way before their time.”

In a more private setting, Sanders met with a tribal delegation including NCAI President Brian Cladoosby, VAWA champion Deborah Parker and Yakama leaders including Asa Washines.

It was during this setting that the Coast Salish leaders honored Bernie Sanders with a Lushootseed name.

“Native American leaders named Bernie Sanders ‘δΞσηυδιϖυp’ (pronounced dooh-s-who-dee-choop),” Deborah wrote on Facebook. “This name is now bestowed upon Bernie Sanders and will be known among the Coast Salish people and beyond. The Lushootseed language meaning is ‘the one lighting the fires for change and unity.’ Thanking our Tulalip language teacher Natosha Gobin for helping us with Bernie Sanders Lushootseed name.”




According to Theresa, Sanders’ rally was historical for many reasons. Sanders has not only been a huge supporter of native issues, but he continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with tribes on such important issues as Violence Against Women and Oak Flats. He is an absolute protector of Mother Earth and he gives tribes total credit for the conservation and protection of the Earth that we do. If push comes to shove and the U.S. President has to make the call to either support treaty rights or to support corporate America and Army Corp of Engineers in the permit to build the coal terminal at Cherry Point, then you can guarantee that Sanders will go with treaty rights and support the tribes.

This is a huge shift that is happening nationally. Tribes are finally elevating themselves to the appropriate level, forcing mainstream media and corporate America to pay attention to us. When we are seen and heard by candidates, we can and will make a difference.



Teaching the next generation of Lushootseed speakers


By Chris Winters, The Herald


TULALIP — Last Thursday, the children in Sarah Poyner Wallis’ kindergarten class at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary School filtered in after the morning assembly.

Maria Martin and Nik-Ko-Te St. Onge, teacher assistants with the Tulalip Tribes’ Lushootseed department, wish the kids good morning.

“haʔɬ dadatut,” they said. The children said it back to them.

The kids sat in a circle for their first lesson: a song, simply called “Hello Friend,” and sung in Lushootseed to the tune of “Frère Jacques.”


Andy Bronson / The HeraldWith the help of flash cards, kindergartners at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary School speak the Lushootseed language with instructor Nik-Ko-Te St. Onge. From left: Jaycee Williams, Jesse Lozano,Tyler Hills and Joscelynn Jones-Lloyd.
Andy Bronson / The Herald
With the help of flash cards, kindergartners at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary School speak the Lushootseed language with instructor Nik-Ko-Te St. Onge. From left: Jaycee Williams, Jesse Lozano,Tyler Hills and Joscelynn Jones-Lloyd.



For years Tulalip children have received lessons in their ancestral tongue at the Tulalip Montessori School and the Betty J. Taylor Early Learning Academy on the reservation. The written form of the language includes characters found in the International Phonetic Alphabet.

This year Lushootseed, or dxʷləšucid, the language of Coast Salish Indians around Puget Sound, was reintroduced to the Marysville School District for the first time since 2011. That’s when the old Tulalip Elementary in the heart of the reservation was closed.

About 50 kindergartners and first-graders — five total classrooms — are getting daily language lessons from Martin and St. Onge this fall.

The simple explanation for the reintroduction is that the Tulalip Tribes were able to hire more teachers.

“Our problem is we were short-staffed. We’ve never had a full crew,” said Michele Balagot, the tribes’ Lushootseed department manager.

Newly hired teachers start out by teaching pre-school kids, and ideally would remain with the same the class of students as they get older, she said.

That’s not very easy in practice, however.

“Some people we hired found out they didn’t like to teach, or weren’t teacher material, or found out they didn’t like working with little kids,” Balagot said.

Add to that the fact that most of the teachers hired have had to learn Lushootseed at the same time they taught it to the children, one of the aftereffects of the boarding school era in which the language was suppressed almost to the point of extinction.

Maria Martin, who is 25, represents a new generation of speakers. She started learning the language as a child in the Montessori school, but throughout her school years only learned the language in the Tulalip summer language camps.

The Lushootseed program sends new hires to Northwest Indian College in Bellingham for formal instruction before they are put in front of a class.

Martin said she feels reasonably fluent when in front of the class, although still consults with her superiors in the language program when she needs specialized vocabulary.

Still, she’s become fluent enough that she’s often delivered invocations and greetings in Lushootseed at official tribal functions.

In Poyner Wallis’ class, she gave instructions to the kindergartners in Lushootseed first, and only English if the kids didn’t appear to understand them.

In one exercise, she held up a flash card with a picture of a brown bear. “stəbtabəl̕,” the kids chimed together.

She held up a picture of a frog. “waq̓waq̓!”

Then she held up an orca, but the kids are unsure and need reminding. “qal̕qaləx̌ič,” Martin said, and the kids shape out the unfamiliar glottal consonants.

A picture of a salmon also stopped them cold, and Martin prompted then with the answer: “sʔuladxʷ.”

“That’s a hard one because it looks like qal̕qaləx̌ič,” one boy piped up. “I almost said ‘salmon’.”

The student body at Quil Ceda Tulalip is about 60 percent Native American, although the actual figure is likely higher once children of mixed marriages or parents who aren’t enrolled in a tribe are taken into account, said Chelsea Craig, a cultural specialist at the school.

All the schoolchildren have been getting a dose of native culture in the morning assembly, which includes singing and a drum circle. The school is also leading the charge in incorporating native history into its regular curriculum.

Craig said she hopes that by getting the kids into Lushootseed while still young, they will learn their ancestral language and come to associate it with a supportive and healing environment.

“My great-grandmother was beaten for speaking Lushootseed,” she said, referring to the boarding school era, which began in 1860 and didn’t truly end until the 1978 passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

When Craig was growing up, some tribal elders could still speak the language, she said.

“The elders spoke it but didn’t share it, because it was too traumatic,” she said. “My great-grandmother didn’t want me to go through what she went through.”

Some Lushootseed words are introduced at the morning assembly, but it’s the lessons in class that are moving toward making the language thrive again.

In Poyner Wallis’ classroom, the kids were split into groups. Nik-Ko-Te St. Onge used the children’s book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” to help reinforce the vocabulary, and then moved on to flash cars with numbers.

St. Onge held up a card with the number six on it. Jordan Bontempo counted out loud on his fingers.

“č̓uʔ, saliʔ, ɬixʷ, buus, cəlac … yəlaʔc!” he said triumphantly.

Meanwhile, Maria Martin gave the kids pictures of a bear to color that also had a connect-the-dots tracery of the Lushootseed word “stəbtabəl̕.” Two kids colored the bear brown and one black, but others went for green, purple, rainbow stripes and one outside-the-lines expressionist squiggle.

When they were done with the bear, they moved on to a picture of a frog.

Carlee James-Jimicum waved her completed bear at Martin. “I’m ready for my waq̓waq̓,” she said.

Balagot said that there are about 40 people on the Tulalip reservation who can speak Lushootseed with some degree of conversational skill.

“We probably couldn’t hold a full conversation, but we could get the gist of what we’re saying,” she said.

The hope is the 50 kindergartners and first-graders will grow into older kids and teens who can add to that number.

Like Martin, perhaps some of them will return to teaching the next generation.

After finishing up in Poyner Wallis’ class, St. Onge and Martin split up. Martin walked down the hall into Lisa Sablan’s kindergarten class, where the kids were eagerly waiting for their lesson.

When she stepped into the room, they all called out together, welcoming their teacher and friend “haʔɬ dadatut syaʔyaʔ!”

gʷədᶻadad: teaching of one’s ancestors

Maria Martin teaching Lushootseed.
Maria Martin teaching


Maria Martin enjoys juice time at the first language camp, held in 1996.
Maria Martin enjoys juice time at the first language camp, held in 1996.


By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

At this year’s closing ceremony for the 20th Annual Lushootseed Day Camp, Maria Martin, better known as Miss Maria to the Tulalip young ones, was acknowledged for being an inaugural participant at the first-ever Lushootseed camp in 1996. Fast forward 20 years to the present and Miss Maria has come full-circle, now a Lushootseed teacher and instructor for the 2015 rendition of the language camp.

“It’s such a special feeling knowing we are now celebrating our 20th year of language camp. During this year’s camp we had a lot of first time attendees, they are only five-years old, and we were able to talk to them about how Miss Maria started out being at the very first language camp 20 years ago,” says Natosha Gobin, a fellow Lushootseed Teacher and instructor at the annual language camp. “She was one of our very first camp attendees and here she is now as one of our Lushootseed teachers. We wanted to pass this message onto our kids because it’s pretty amazing.

“Through her work, which is of a humble heart, Miss Maria continues to inspire our next generation to continue learning, speaking, and being the amazing little language warriors that they are. We are so grateful for her.”

Miss Maria has only fond memories of the early years of language camp that unknowingly shaped her future.

“Lushootseed language camp has been a part of my life for years. It’s a reunion of friends, family and history,” says Maria. “You get to attend a summer time camp where you’re able to be reunited with people you may not normally see and have fun together. You get to learn things that aren’t offered just anywhere. It was a place I got to learn about my people and through that learned who I wanted to be.

“The people at camp, the volunteers, the Lushootseed staff, my family and friends, they all definitely impacted my decision to be a Lushootseed teacher. I feel I learned important life lessons, as well as my cultural values, in a way that I could understand them as a child. It makes me so happy to be a part of the Lushootseed department today. I couldn’t ask for a better job. It’s amazing to come full circle. I get the opportunity to be the kind of teacher who inspired me and taught me our culture. Ideally, I get to reciprocate the actions of all the teachers who have made me who I am today. Now, I get to inspire.”

As the participants, teachers, and even the format of language has changed so has Miss Maria, but her goals will always remain the same.

“I love camp. I always have. Whatever changes have come or whatever changes will come, I’ll always be ready and looking forward to another amazing year. We take the good from camp and leave behind the bad. Just keep making it a wonderful experience, that’s my goal.”


Youth keep Tulalip language and culture alive

Photo/Micheal Rios
Photo/Micheal Rios


by Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

During the weeks of July 17-28, the Greg Williams court was home to the 20th Annual Lushootseed Day Camp. The camp was open to children age five to twelve who wanted to learn about their culture and Lushootseed language through art, songs, games, weaving and storytelling. Each year the Lushootseed Department teams up with the Cultural Resources Department, along with a select number of vital community volunteers, to hold two one-week camps. Each camp has openings for up to 50 participants, but, just as with years past, the camp’s first week total of 37 kids was easily eclipsed by the 70+ kids who attended the second week.

A new format brought a renewed sense of excitement and vigor to both the teachers and youth who participated. In previous years, all youth performed in one large play, which marks the end of camp. This year, the youth were divvied up into five smaller groups. Each group were taught a unique, traditional Lushootseed short story, and then performed that story in the form of a play at the camp’s closing ceremony. The stories taught were Lady Louse, Bear and Ant, Coyote and Rock, Mink and Tetyika, and Nobility at Utsaladdy.

Throughout the duration of camp, the children participated in eight different daily activities. The following list is what each group accomplished throughout the week:

Camp students use a Nintendo DSi tp learn their lines. photo/Micheal Rios
Camp students use a Nintendo DSi to learn their lines.
photo/Micheal Rios



Art – painting, making candle holders and storybook drawings.

Games – played various outside games to bolster team building.

Songs – learned and practiced songs both traditional and created.

Language – learned key Lushootseed words that were in their play, various Lushootseed phrases and Lushootseed word games.

Play – learned, practiced and performed the plays Lady Louse, Bear and Ant, Coyote and Rock, Mink and Tetyika, and Nobility at Utsaladdy.

Technology – children learned and practiced Lushootseed materials related to the play using the Nintendo DSi handheld games created by Dave Sienko.

Traditional Teachings – learned various traditional stores and values.

Weaving – paper weaving, story mats, friendship bracelets, bookmarks and hand sewing.


“This year’s camp was dedicated to Edward ‘Hagen’ Sam for the songs, stories and teachings he has passed down,” explained Lushootseed language teacher and co-coordinator of the camp, Natosha Gobin, during the camp’s closing ceremony. “Through the recordings of stories and songs, Hagen continues to pass on many teachings that our department utilizes on a daily basis. Also, we give special acknowledgement to his son, William ‘Sonny’ Sam, for the gifts he gave to our department on behalf of his father.


Story figures, Mink and Tetyika, trolling for fish. Photo/Micheal Rios
Story figures, Mink and Tetyika, trolling for fish.
Photo/Micheal Rios
Celum Hatch reviews lines of ‘Coyote and Rock’ with costumed performers. Photo/Micheal Rios
Celum Hatch reviews lines of ‘Coyote and Rock’ with costumed performers.
Photo/Micheal Rios

“We would also like to honor Auntie Joy and Shelly Lacy for the vital work they did in the early years of Language Camp that have allowed us to continue hosting it as we celebrate the 20th year! They laid the foundation for camp and we raise our hands to them in gratitude for all they have done and continue to do for our youth and community.”

While the plays and closing ceremony for week one’s camp was held in the Greg Williams court, due to a loss in the community week two’s camp held their closing ceremony in the Kenny Moses Building. Regardless of the venue, both week one and two’s young play-performers made their debut to large community attendance, as family and friends came out in droves to show their support.

“We are so thankful to all the teachers, all the staff, and all the parents who volunteered to be a part of Language Camp and help our young ones learn our language. Our language is so important to us. It makes my heart happy that my children get to be here, that our children get to be here, to hear the words of our ancestors and to speak the words of our ancestors,” said ceremonial witness and former Board of Director, Deborah Parker. “Our kids continue to honor our ancestors by learning their songs and stories, then to perform them for us. I just hope and pray we continue to speak the words of our ancestors, to speak our Lushootseed language.”

When the plays had concluded and the ceremonial witnesses had shared a few words, there was a giveaway. The camp participants gave handmade crafts to their audience members, which preceded a light lunch of fried chicken, macaroni salad, baked beans and cupcakes.

Reflecting on this year’s 20th Annual Language Camp, Natosha Gobin beamed with pride, “No matter what goes on behind the scenes in planning and preparing for camp, it is always a success! We had over 100 youth attend camp and they all enjoyed each activity they participated in. I am extremely proud of my co-workers for their hard work and dedication to their activities. I believe that every year camp is offered, we continue to leave a lasting impression on our young participants, just as they do for us.”

For any questions, comments or to request Lushootseed language materials to use in the home, please contact the Lushootseed Department at 360-716-4499 or visit

The ‘Berry Picking Song’ is performed to bless the meal. Photo/Micheal Rios
The ‘Berry Picking Song’ is performed to bless the meal.
Photo/Micheal Rios


Kaylee Baley narrates ‘Bear and Ant.’ Photo/Micheal Rios
Kaylee Baley narrates ‘Bear and Ant.’
Photo/Micheal Rios


Contact Micheal Rios, 


Keeping Lushootseed Language Alive In the Voices of Youth

Maria Martin teaches Lushootseed to preschoolers at the Tulalip Montessori School.KUOW PHOTO/BEN GAULD
Maria Martin teaches Lushootseed to preschoolers at the Tulalip Montessori School.

By Ben Gauld, KUOW


In Maria Martin’s preschool classroom at the Tulalip Montessori School, the children were learning to count to ten.

“Two!” they shouted.

But this lesson wasn’t in English. “In Lushootseed!” Martin instructed her class.

Saliʔ!” their tiny voices rang out.

Linguists estimate that by the end of the century, 80% of all world languages will fall out of use. Maria Martin is trying to prevent her language from vanishing.

Lushootseed is the language of many tribes in the Puget Sound region, including the Muckleshoot, Puyallup, and Duwamish. It’s been around for hundreds of years, but is  in danger of going extinct.

Only a few tribal leaders are fluent in Lushootseed. “You hear people saying how amazing it is that you can speak it, how they wish they could, but they don’t have time,” Martin explained.

One of Martin’s “worst fears” is that her language “dies out and nobody speaks it anymore. Because that’s a big part of who we are.” If the language is lost, according to Martin, “it just seems that much easier to lose everything else.”

“It’s Something To Be Celebrated”

When a language dies, more than just words stop being spoken. Stories stop being told. Songs stop being sung. Preserving cultural values and history is much harder without a way to share them.

“How are you going to sing songs you don’t know the meanings to?” Martin asked. “How are you going to provide any traditional connections without the language? I feel you need to know the language, if only some of it, to really understand the whole culture.”

If Lushootseed is going to survive, Martin believes it must carry on in the voices of youth. The Tulalip Montessori School offers classes in Lushootseed to children ages three though five. They learn to count, sing songs, and tell stories in the language. The lessons in Lushootseed provide a way for the kids to experience their cultural heritage, which they couldn’t find in most preschools.

Martin said the community’s response has been overwhelmingly positive. She sees parents post Facebook videos of their kids singing Lushootsheed songs, or saying Lushootseed words. “You see that pride in the parents. ‘Hey, my child knows this.’ It’s something to be celebrated.”

When Martin was a child, she attended the same school where she now teaches.  She hopes to be the inspiration that some of her teachers were to her.

“I was lucky enough to start out in Montessori and learn some Lushootseed, but after I left I didn’t get much exposure. It wasn’t offered in school anymore,” she explained. She said that much more work needs to be done.

An Evolving Language

The Tulalip tribes are working to train more teachers, and get language programs into higher levels of school.

But for Lushootseed to remain relevant, it must also adapt to the changing lifestyles of its speakers.

David Sienko is not a Native tribe member, but he’s been working with the Tulalip Tribes for the past decade. He’s a media developer in charge of all the technological aspects of the Tribes: managing the website, creating weather forecasts in Lushootseed, and anything that helps to reconcile the language with the technology of today.

“Technology has changed,” said Sienko. “So we have to create new words for modern life, and in doing so that’s going to help preserve the language.”

For example, tqad ti səxʷč̓əɬab means “turn off the TV.” And  x̌alalikʷ čəd ʔal ti səxʷʔayilali means “I am typing on the computer.”

Sienko is confident that Lushootseed won’t go extinct any time soon. “All the Lushootseed-speaking tribes are really putting in a concerted effort, and they are starting to work together more readily,” he explained.

Ultimately, it is up to the next generation to keep Lushootseed alive. That’s why Maria Martin does her work.

“The kids inspire me to get up every day and come into work,” she said. “Next year they might go onto kindergarten and forget all about me. But for that little bit there was something there. Maybe they’ll have the chance to take away what I took away.”


RadioActive is KUOW’s program for high school students. This story was produced in RadioActive’s Spring Workshop. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

Lushootseed 101 offered at Northwest Indian College

Lushootseed 101 offered at Northwest Indian College through Winter, January 7 through March 27.

Classes are Monday-Thursday (with an online lesson on Fridays) at the Tulalip Administration Building Room 263 – 3:30-4:20

This is a great opportunity for anyone working with our youth to become familiar with the language and help expose our youth to the hearing it spoken within the community!


NWIC Winter Quarter Flyer

Echoes of her ancestors

Tulalip storyteller Lois Landgrebe discusses life as a storyteller

By Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

Lois-LandgrebeTULALIP – Tulalip tribal member Lois Landgrebe has always been a storyteller. What started out as an entertaining way to comfort her younger sister during childhood has evolved into a beautiful craft she uses to connect people to her tribal culture.

Bilingual in English and her tribe’s traditional language, Lushootseed, she gracefully uses the two languages interchangeably to help the listener understand the historical importance of her stories, while also being entertained.

A steady increase of requests from across the region to hear native stories has catapulted this once local storyteller into a larger audience venue. Through the use of storytelling she is able to educate local communities about tribal history and culture, as well as teach listeners about ethics and morals in the same manner as her ancestors would have.

Tulalip News/See-Yaht-Sub recently sat down with Landgrebe to discuss the art of storytelling and how she uses the words of her elders to continue one of the oldest ways to communicate and pass on history for the next generation.

TN/SYS: When did you begin to tell stories?

Landgrebe: I started with my adoptive baby sister. Our mother passed away when I was 11 and she was 3, so we ended up sharing a bedroom together when we were relocated. She felt alone and scared, so I would go to bed early just to keep her company and ended up starting to tell her stories. I was about 12 or 13 years old when that started, and I learned through my birth mother Carol that her father was a storyteller. He had told stories to my mother and uncles when they were little, so she tells me storytelling is in my blood.

I used to tell stories to the elementary kids on my school bus route, and this was way out in the country boondocks and it takes almost an hour to get to school. I always had a saved seat among the elementary kids because I would carry on a saga of a story that would continue and continue and would last for weeks. They were unique stories that I made up about animals and they absolutely loved it. I would give each animal personality characteristics and they had conflicts and such, so it was like a movie.

TN/SYS: How did you come to tell Tulalip stories?

Landgrebe: I was hired as a Lushootseed language assistant in 1994 and I started learning traditional stories. This is where I also met Dr. Toby Langen and learned from Ray ‘Te At Mus’ Moses, Vi Hilbert and Grace Goedel. Each time I hear a story I am able to retain most of it. I can do Te At Mus’ stories word for word because I have heard them a dozen times; so I really try to keep to his format.

TN/SYS: What is it that you love the most about storytelling? You are naturally a calm, quiet person, but when you tell a story there is a transformation.

Landgrebe: I think most of the time I take kind of a back seat to things in life and such because I am a quiet person, but when it comes to storytelling and presentation, and even the state of the Tulalip Tribes, I take an absolute passion. Sharing that gives me the strength to take the front seat and get out there.

TN/SYS: What is your favorite story to tell?

Landgrebe: I think my favorite is the “Pheasant and Raven”. I like it because it has a repetition in it so I can pause and the audience can blurt out what comes next, because they know exactly what is going to happen because it happens to the other characters.

TN/SYS: Do you prepare yourself before you have to tell a story? Is there a routine that you do right before telling a story?

Landgrebe: Usually my mind is set and I have to give myself a few minutes. Sometimes I think it is the spirit of a storyteller that I take on because sometimes I don’t plan it. I just stand up and introduce or do a song, and it is like stories line up. It is hard to explain. Some that come right to me are in the back of my mind and I know that is the story that needs to be told.

Lois Landgrebe tells the story of "Beaver and the Field Mouse," to a large crowd in the Hibulb Cultural Center longhousePhoto/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News
Lois Landgrebe tells the story of “Beaver and the Field Mouse,” to a large crowd in the Hibulb Cultural Center longhouse
Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

TN/SYS: Do you write your stories down or is it all by memorization and how do you remember all those stories?

Landgrebe: A lot of it is by memorization. I do actually write them down upon request for an article or something.

Sometimes I catch myself in the wrong character. I will get done with “Mink and Whale” and start “Coyote and Rock,’and I will suddenly say whale instead of rock, so you have to be careful, especially in Lushootseed.

TN/SYS: When you tell the stories in Lushootseed do you feel it adds a deeper meaning to you and to your audience?

Landgrebe: Yes I do. I definitely do. I think that sometimes as Lushootseed speakers we take it for granted that we can write it down without thinking about it. And folks watch us write it down and they are amazed. I think that audiences that hear ancient Native languages, that when you first announce that this is endangered, and when you pronounce words that they have never ever heard or think would exist with the hard and guttural sounds, there are people that come up later and say they love to hear it. It is a way of preserving it.

TN/SYS: There are not many storytellers, and just like traditional carving, you have to be taught, you just can’t get up and tell a story. How do you feel as a Tulalip storyteller and Tulalip tribal member to be able to travel to different places with the teachings of your elders and from the people that taught you their stories?

Landgrebe: I feel like an echo of my ancestors. I really adhere to protocol to make sure that they are acknowledged. If the story is from Te At Mus and the Moses family I always make sure, as tribal members, they are mentioned. I always make sure there is that acknowledgement.

It makes me feel nostalgic. Not to toot my own horn because I feel humbled, but when I get on the stage, I feel important to be able to tell these stories. Stories are kept alive. When you are telling them you are breathing new life into them and it keeps that story going. And when you are listening to it, you continue to bring life to it as well, because it can’t move on without going into your ears and mind and being remembered. When I am telling them to little kids, I always pause for a moment and tell them about respect. We have to respect our traditional stories. We don’t know how old these stories are and how long they have been passed on from storyteller to children to another storyteller, so that makes children really stop and listen.

TN/SYS: When did you know that you were ready to step out and tell these traditional stories and that this was your path?

Landgrebe: I think it was right after I started working at the Hibulb Cultural Center. I started to become more known for storytelling with audiences that would visit. I knew I was a storyteller between 2001 and 2010, when I was with the Lushootseed program. They would receive requests to story tell and they would turn them over to me. To me, storytelling isn’t something that gives me anxiety, I feel privileged to be able to tell them.


TN/SYS: Do you consider storytelling an art form?

Landgrebe: Yes definitely. Most would look at it as more of an entertainment, which it was and is a form of entertainment. But there is also, locked in, an obligation to share a, or several, traditional teachings within it. It is almost like keeping in with a design, you can’t necessarily change it too much; you might be able to a little, only to fit to an audience. I have a way of clueing in to what my audience is. If they are younger children I can voice to them. If it was high school students I wouldn’t go, “ok and then they…” I just have that feel and I think as a storyteller you really know your audience and where their level of understanding is, so you can raise that level of complexity based on that.

TN/SYS: Storytelling is a very traditional form of communication, where do you see it fitting into the lives of our youth today, where mostly you compete with them checking Instagram and Facebook?

Landgrebe: That is a hard one. Our lives are very instamatic. Pulling away from technology can sometimes be a treat. Silencing the devices and being in a moment that is not a part of electricity or technology can give a whole another human interaction. Storytelling can be as enriching as watching a movie. You engage with your mind and your ears, and even your heart. When you listen you visualize the words. I have had groups, that when it is over, they are not ready for it to end.

TN/SYS: Can you tell me the elements of storytelling or the process you go through when you are learning a new story?

Landgrebe: I think the best way for me is to just hear it. I grasp onto stories better when I hear it told. I have learned stories on paper or on the Internet, but it takes me a little bit more time to learn them. I think the oral presentation is more susceptible for me to pick up. Sometimes scribbling down an outline because you are not quite as familiar with it as much, but as a storyteller you grasp onto the patterns of the story. A lot of our traditional stories have a pattern, we call them pattern episodes. The same thing will happen more than once in the story to different characters. It helps listeners learn the teaching.

My MO is patterns episode. When I stand up to tell the story it comes out stronger when it is in a pattern than if it wasn’t. Sometimes a story will just come out that way.

TN/SYS: Can you explain what you experience when you are telling a story?

Landgrebe: It is almost like an adrenaline and heaviness on your heart, but your heart is pumping through it. It is hard to explain. You are happy. You pause and you look for a lot of eye contact. It is really unique to see that connection and you pan across and you look to make sure your audience is with you. If you notice they are not then there is something you are not getting across to them.

It is amazing how everything melts away except for yourself and the audience. Afterwards you notice the stage and everything; you want to get off and get away. It is amazing how it all just shrinks away.

TN/SYS: What is your favorite age group to tell stories to?

Landgrebe: Third, fourth and fifth grade. They are old enough to understand the complexities of the story and not too old to think they know it all. Grown ups are a good group to but I really enjoy the youth.


Landgrebe is scheduled to appear on August 30 at 1:30 p.m. at the Hibulb Cultural Center for their monthly storytelling series. For more information on future storytelling events featuring Landgrebe or to request a story, please contact her at


Brandi N. Montreuil: 360-913-5402;

In their words

Youth at the 19th Annual Tulalip Lushootseed Language Camp's week one group debut their play "The Seal Hunting Brothers," at the Tulalip Kenny Moses Building on July 25. Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News
Youth at the 19th Annual Tulalip Lushootseed Language Camp’s week one group debut their play “The Seal Hunting Brothers,” at the Tulalip Kenny Moses Building on July 25.
Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

Annual camp immerses youth in traditional language

By Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

TULALIP – Tulalip youth welcomed their family and friends to the 19th Annual Lushootseed Language Camp where they presented the play “The Seal Hunting Brothers,” a traditional Tulalip story told by Martha LaMont.

Throughout this week language warriors, ages 5–12, have been adding to their expanding Lushootseed vocabulary while learning a condensed version of the original “The Seal Hunting Brothers,” which is comprised of 900 lines. The story explores topics about greed, honesty, providing for family and community, as well as how the Tulalip Tribes emblem came to be the killer whale.

Tulalip Lushootseed teachers and staff, who coordinate the camp every year, teach youth basic Lushootseed phrases, prayers and traditional stories through interactive workstations. The camp, which features two sessions each a weeklong focuses on a different traditional story each year. This year a handful of Quil Ceda & Tulalip Elementary teachers joined youth in learning the traditional values and stories of Tulalip, resulting in a continued collaborative effort between the Marysville School District and Tulalip Tribes.

Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News
Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

“Each year we pick a theme,” said Lushootseed teacher Natosha Gobin to the audience before the play. “This year we learned about the seal hunting brothers and we are excited for you to hear what the kids learned during camp. Each year we have returning students. We only have ages 5 through 12, but when they reach that 12 year mark, most return to be group leaders and are excited to participate as a group leader.”

This year’s play was held at the Kenny Moses Building in Tulalip, a change from last year’s venue, held at the Hibulb Cultural Center’s longhouse. The longhouse setting is traditionally a place oral history; stories and traditions were told. Despite the change in venue, the youth put on a spectacular play, featuring a decorated set, costumes and props.

Keeping with Tulalip tradition, two witnesses were called forth to watch the play and speak a few words to the youth about their work. This year, the honor went to Tulalip elder Hank Williams, whose mother is Martha LaMont, and Tulalip tribal member Patti Gobin.

“I thank everyone for being here to watch the kids learn our language,” said Williams following the play. “This lifts my heart and makes me feel good to know that these children have learned our language and I hope they do not forget it, and they carry it on.”

Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News
Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

“What I witnessed was a dream come true,” Gobin said to the youth. “ The old people used to say they were waiting for this day. They were waiting for the day when we could speak our traditional language. My grandmother was forced into the boarding school when she was just five years old. She entered speaking Lushootseed and left at the age of 19 speaking English. She refused to teach me our language because she said she didn’t want me to get hurt like she was for speaking Lushootseed. These children are privileged to be able to speak our language. It is exciting to see this. I thank the you children for speaking our language, and I thank the staff for being here to teach it to them.”

For more information about the Lushootseed language or the camp, please contact the Tulalip Lushootseed Department at 360-716-4495 or visit their website at


Brandi N. Montreuil: 360-913-5402;



Lushootseed Camp begins July 21

Lushootseed teacher, Natosha Gobin, shares traditional stories with youth during the annual language camps.Photo courtesy of Tulalip Lushootseed Language Department
Lushootseed teacher, Natosha Gobin, shares traditional stories with youth during the annual language camps.
Photo courtesy of Tulalip Lushootseed Language Department

By Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

TULALIP – The Tulalip Lushootseed Language Camp will begin July 21, marking its 19th consecutive year of connecting Tulalip youth, ages 5-12, to the Lushootseed language and Tulalip culture.

This year youth will learn the traditional Tulalip story, “Seal Hunting Brothers,” told by Martha LaMont. Through the use of activity stations that include art, weaving, technology, traditional teachings, songs, and games among others, youth will learn the traditional story in Lushootseed. Youth will then perform the story in a play for the community at the end of the weeklong camp.

“This story is passed down from Martha LaMont and is one of our vision, mission and values story. Each year we pick our theme and pick our story. We ask ourselves, what story do we want them to learn; what morals do we want them to learn?” said Tulalip Luhootseed teacher Natosha Gobin, who has been teaching at the camp for over a decade.

The story, “The Seal Hunting Brothers,” explores topics about greed, honesty, providing for family and community, as well as explaining how the killer whale became the Tulalip Tribes emblem.

Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil
Photo/ Brandi N. Montreuil, Tulalip News

This year, teachers from the Quil Ceda & Tulalip Elementary School will be joining the camp in a collaborative effort to continue building a trust relationship between Marysville School District teachers and Tulalip youth.

“We’ve been doing this for 19 years, and I have been helping to lead the camp since 2003. After this many years, it is hard to hold back on all the ideas that we want to do. This year in our art station we will be teaching about Southern Coast Salish art.  Kids will be able to start learning about the art design elements and how to put those elements together, while learning about positive and negative space,” said Gobin.

Held at the Tulalip Kenny Moses Building, the interactive camp is held in two sessions and open to 100 youth. Registration is open until July 28. Both camp sessions will feature a play based on the “The Seal Hunting Brothers,” held at the Hibulb Cultural Center’s Longhouse, followed by a potlatch and a traditional honoring of community members.

For more information about camp times and registration please contact the Tulalip Lushootseed Department at 360-716-4499 or visit their website at


Brandi N. Montreuil: 360-913-5402;