Another year of Salish language learning has begun at Nk̓ʷusm Salish Language School | News

Char-Koosta News

At times it’s kind of like herding cats in Echo Brown’s pre-school kindergarten class but with Brown’s motherly ways the little kitties are all ears.

ARLEE — A bit more than 20 years ago four young members of the Flathead Nation — Melanie Sandoval, Chaney Bell, Josh Brown and Tachini Pete — planted Salish language seeds that took root as Nk̓ʷusm Salish Language School. The seeds are now blossoming with a steady stream of young children walking through its doors as pre-school students wanting to learn the Salish language and walking out the doors as 8th grade graduates with a solid foundation of the Salish language and culture coupled with an elementary education.

This year there are 49 students enrolled at Nk̓ʷusm from pre-school to 8th grade and 12 staff members. Echo Brown, pre-school teacher, said the stability of the staff has been a key to educating the young language seekers.

“Our focus is on the kids and it can get stressful at times,” Brown said. “Through the years we have had consistency in staffing. The stability in staffing is a blessing that helps things run smoothly here.”

Cultural specialist Allen Pierre

Cultural specialist Allen Pierre discusses the importance of the Salish traditions and language with his students.

Cultural specialist Allen Pierre, although a fairly new member of the Nk̓ʷusm staff, has added the important Salish culture-language link.

“Language and culture go hand-in-hand. They are part of our circle of life,” Pierre told his students. “Everything we do is just a sliver of our culture. The more slivers you have, the more you know about our culture.”

Pierre said salvaging the Salish language is of utmost importance as it is a huge sliver in the maintenance of the Salish culture. However, Pierre said not being able to speak Salish is not a barrier to knowing and practicing the traditions of the Salish people.

“Even if you don’t know the language you can still have the traditional knowledge,” Pierre told his students. “As you get older, you’ll be in a cultural circle of traditional knowledge. The Elders are the cultural holders.”

Young minds at work

Young minds at work are an important part of the revitalization of the Salish language.

Still, Pierre said the Salish language is so important to mending the cultural circle and Nk̓ʷusm students could be part of mending it.

“Our prayers here are that you take this language to enhance your understanding of our culture. It gives us the foundation to stand on to see who you are as Indian people,” he said. “Through teaching and learning the language you are keeping our culture going.”

I got it right.

I got it right. The young man in Elizabeth Derouche’s class is very happy with his correct answer.

Nk̓ʷusm’s role in keeping the culture going means – beyond the human component – a safe and modern facility. The school is located in the former bowling alley and through the years it has been upgraded to meet the needs of the growing student body.

The school recently got new sidewalks and two more bathrooms. The new cafeteria is near completion but the supply chain has put a hitch in the giddy-up. Landscaping is in process but will take a break for the fall and winter.

Brown said a recent parent-staff campus clean-up was a big help to make the spring landscaping projects easier.

Brown said an upgrade of fencing for the campus is much needed to ease student safety concerns is on the Nk̓ʷusm wish list. However, she added that Nk̓ʷusm doesn’t have the funds to do the important upgrade — there are portions of a fence but not a total campus enclosure fence.

Look at what I drew

Look at what I drew. This young lady was very proud of her drawing.

Nk̓ʷusm, which conducts classes four days a week — Monday through Thursday — still conducts “better safe than sorry” COVID testing weekly.

In August the Nk̓ʷusm staff held a retreat, and among the topics of discussion was the need for another Salish language school in Ronan to serve the tribal population.

“We have always known we needed a school up north, half of our students come from the northern part of the reservation,” Brown said. “We’ve been talking about a new school in Ronan. We are looking at funding sources and a site for the school. We would start slow, with teaching the little guys first and let the school grow with the kids as they progress to higher grades.”

Through the years the Salish language effort on the Flathead Reservation has grown. There are Salish language classes at Salish Kootenai College and in many reservation schools. There is also the Salish Language Adult Apprenticeship program at the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee Longhouse headed by Chaney Bell.

Echo Brown guides

Echo Brown guides young students through lessons of the day.

“The goal out there is teaching the Salish language,” Brown said.

Bell and the Salish language teachers have mentored quite a few people through the program and is a key player in the Salish language growth on the Flathead Reservation. He has developed a Salish language curriculum for the apprenticeship program that is used by others.

“He did a great job getting it out to the community. Everyone (staff) here has been through the curriculum,” Brown said. “No̓ʷusm can feed into the apprenticeship program; the program has fed into ours.”

Brown said learning the language could result in teaching opportunities and another school would help with that.

“Building a new school would provide a Salish language teaching option for the language learners — once you learn the language, then what? Teaching is a natural progression,” Brown said. “The goal out there is teaching the Salish language. The least we can do is try.”

Try what the four young tribal members stepped up to do more than 20 years ago and here we are. Where will Nk̓ʷusm be 20 years from now? That all depends on the try of those of today.

Impromptu song

Heartwarming spirit lifting. During the noontime recess these three youngsters dragged a piece of wood and wooden sticks from a wood pile and began an impromptu song.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.