SPOKANE - Under the shadow of Spokane’s Riverfront Park’s clocktower, Spokane tribal elder Pat Moses called back to a time before the city.
“We come here today to celebrate the Salish language and celebrate life,” said Moses. “Each and everyday we give thanks. We see the sun in the morning, and we say thanks for one more day of life. Life is a precious thing. Language is a precious thing. Our culture is precious, and that’s just who we are.”
Moses continued: “This area here was a fishing ground a long time ago, before the city of Spokane was here. We come here, and it brings back a lot of memories of the old days. There’d be camps, salmon.”
Moses shared a prayer, opening the Salish School of Spokane’s “Rally for Salish,” an event held by the school in response to the United Nation’s designation of 2019 as the Year of Indigenous Language.
“We’re so happy that our language is still here,” said the Salish School’s Larae Wiley, speaking in Salish. “There are a lot of people working, and working so they don’t lose our languages. It’s very good when children, and then adults, their parents, are speaking the language. That’s how we can bring the language back to life. A long time ago, our ancestors were strong. Because of that, we are still here. We are still speaking indigenous languages.”
The Salish School’s Principal Parker, who emceed the event, interpreted for Wiley.
During the event, students from the school sang several songs.
A press release distributed before the event read, “The Spokane area is home to four distinct indigenous languages: n̓ xaʔm̓ xčín̓ (Wenatchee- Columbian Salish); n̓ səl̓ xčin̓ (Colville-Okanagan Salish); n̓ sélišc̓ n̓ (Spokane-Kalispel Salish), and; sn̓ čic̓ úʔum̓ šc̓ n̓ (Coeur d’Alene Salish). All four of these unique languages are part of the Salish language family and are grouped as Southern Interior Salish languages.
According to Parker, the Salish School has 55 students, aging from 3 years old to 17 years old, and 35 instructors. Earlier this year, the Salish School announced they would expand their immersion track for students through 8th grade.
“We’re able to do this work because so many people help us,” said Parker, speaking in Salish. “Every year, from individual donors, we raise $100,000. We need that so we can help make our languages health again.”
Parker also noted the Spokane United Way assisted with a literacy grant.
Parker was interpreted by Graham Wiley-Camacho.
When introducing the upper elementary class, Parker also noted each of the students read in both English and Salish at grade level.
“All of these students are reading at grade-level, and it’s rare you’ll find a room in this city with all the students reading at grade level,” said Parker.
The UN Indigenous Languages website (https://en.iyil2019.org/) tells us: “languages play a crucial role in the daily lives of people, not only as a tool for communication, education, social integration and development, but also as a repository for each person’s unique identity, cultural history, traditions and memory. But… languages around the world continue to disappear at an alarming rate. With this in mind, the United Nations declared 2019 The Year of Indigenous Languages in order to raise awareness of them, not only to benefit the people who speak these languages, but also for others to appreciate the important contribution they make to our world’s rich cultural diversity.”