Colville Tribal elder Ernie Brooks and Lance Brender, U.S. military staff college, study the conjugations of different verbs in the Moses-Columbian language as part of their effort to record verbs for preservation of the language.

Language Preservation finds partner in U.S. Military graduate student for project to make digital audio and video copies of Nxaảmxcín verbs

NESPELEM—Colville Tribal Language Preservation’s Ernie Brooks sat in front of a camera with a microphone pinned to his lapel. Another camera took a profile shot of the tribal elder—a soldier of our language, his son Ernestie ‘Sneena’ Brooks would later write online.

With Brooks in the program’s classroom sat US Command and General Staff College’s Major Lance Brender in a military-esque suit coat. His perfectly trimmed hair. As if in interrogation.

The relationship between the two had been strained initially—to say the least—said Brender, citing “terrible mistrust” between Brooks and himself.

“It wasn’t until we worked things out over Christmas,” said Brender. “We were able to see the humanity in each other’s eyes.”

Together Thursday, the two worked to record audio and video records of conjugations of different verbs in Nxaảmxcín, the Moses-Columbia language, in the Language Preservation’s classroom.

Brender, who is a master level candidate in the Command and General Staff Officer’s Course, is originally from Cashmere and said his mission is to help preserve the language of the original people of his childhood home.

In what Brender describes as ‘an elective’ to his military study, he has been accepted to the University of Kansas’ Linguistics Master’s of Arts program.

“We see language as a unique expression of identity,” said Brender, again talking about the humanity he and Brooks found as common ground. “If you lose a language, you lose part of who that people is.”

Brooks agreed: “We can’t separate our culture from our language.”

The two sat in front of a computer. Brender read a word in English—such as “I ask her, she, it”—and Brooks provided the Nxaảmxcín translation.

The ultimate goal of the recordings is to form something similar to the book, “501 Spanish Verbs”—an encyclopedia of verbs and their various conjugations, according to Brender.

But Thursday, the two only made it through about 30 verbs—with over 20 conjugations of each word in the present tense.

One of the differences in the language comes in the conjugations, said Brender.

“[In English] we show an action with multiple verbs. ‘I ask you,’” said Brender. “Nxaảmxcín puts all the meaning into a single word.”

“Our language is really beautiful that way,” said Brooks.

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