In the Washoe Tribes Head Start program pick pine nuts
to make pine nut soup for the Pine Nut Celebration.
(photo courtesy of Washoe Language Program)
The traditional arts of building canoes and fishing traps, making
rabbit fur blankets, and pine nut picking are celebrated in the
Washoe Tribe of Nevada and Californias Language Program.
Through these activities, the tribes youngest children
are not only learning their language, they are becoming cultural
leaders in their communities.
Community participation is the biggest challenge in revitalizing
tribal languages, and a recent podcast highlighted the successful
efforts of two tribal language programs, The Washoe Tribe of Nevada
and California and the Puyallup of Washington State.
Three speakers, Lisa Enos, Washoe, coordinator of the Washoe
Language Program, and the Twulshooteed (Puyallup) instructors, Amber
Sterud-Hayward and Brittany Corpuz, both Puyallup of Washington
State, brought insights from their programs, and offered nine ways
to encourage language learning and cultural revival, with minimum
Like so many other tribes, the Washoe are facing losing their
original languages. Of 1,500 registered Washoe tribal members, there
are only eight fluent speakers of the Wasiw language, all of them
over 70. For the Puyallup, there are only five certified Level One
speakers among the 4,800 tribal members. Level One speakers are
not fluent, but in the process of learning the language.
First things firstfunding language programs can
come from a variety of sources. A $487,279 grant from the Administration
for Children and Families funded the language and culture program,
while the Puyallup program is tribally funded.
Partnering with elders is a common solution for immersion
schools and language nests, but getting the elders to the children
can present challenges. The Washoe Language Program brings the children
to the senior center once a month, and they all participate in cultural
crafts and other activities. As an added benefit, At the senior
center, the children are exposed to other Native languages and dialects
as well, Enos said.
and children from Head Start participate in cultural activities
as part of the Language Nest in the Washoe Tribe of Nevada
(photo courtesy of Washoe Language Program)
Although many tribal programs provide food as an incentive
to engage the community, Enos said the Washoe Tribe gets even more
community involvement with hands-on cultural activities. All of
the activities serve to connect the children to their culture while
learning their language.
When the children and the elders made a rabbit fur blanket,
a buzz went through the community because it hadnt been
done in 50 years, Enos said. What our children are learning,
they bring back and teach to the community.
The children have made snowshoes and canoes, and one of the
fathers helped the children make baskets. The grandparents are selling
the moccasins the children make. One night, the kids were
teaching their parents hand games, and the officer patrolling the
area saw a lot of cars at Head Start. The next thing you know, our
tribal officer sat down and played hand games with the kids, and
that was exciting because they get to see the officials in a different
light, Enos said.
According to Enos, the cultural activities in Head Starts
Language Nest restored excitement and enthusiasm within the community
for history and traditions, but it took almost a year before the
language project really took off. Written into their grant was the
promise of hours of elder involvement and an involved tribal leadership,
but it wasnt immediately achieved.
Enos said the activities are igniting a passion in the community
that they werent able to inspire with nightly classes for
the adults. We had sporadic involvement, but now it is really
catching like wildfire, Enos said. What the children
are learning in school and afterward has really flooded over into
the families and the community.
The high school youth now speak the Washoe language at basketball
games, and the younger ones are using it in gym, which has inspired
the adults. Its all natural. All the kids are asking
how to say their names in Washoe. The more it is heard, the more
involvement we get, Enos said.
A first grader at Chief Leschi School
enjoys the language program in Mrs. Caysons first grade
(photo courtesy of Chief Leschi School)
Washoe tribal legends were incorporated in language based
books and materials, and then coordinated with activities. Illustrations
were done by tribal members, and elders helped translate the books.
We had a party and handed them out. There was a lot of excitement
about it. The community got involved, tribal leadership came, and
we had a book signing with four generations, Enos said.
Handouts for parents
We try not to limit what the kids are learning based
on school activities, Enos said. At meal times, students learn
how to ask for different foods, and then handouts are taken home
to parents. Vocabulary is separated into phonetic language and the
handout challenges students and parents to use the words in a sentence.
They can see how words change in the first person, second
person, like that. Parents and children are learning more at home
because they are on the same page with what they are learning,
The Puyallup Tribe found their way through trial and error.
In the original 2007 program, simple phrases such as I see
a cat, or I see a bird were utilized, but did
not require conversation.
The program was updated in 2014, when new staff members Chris
Duenas, media developer; Zalmai Zahir, Twulshootseed language consultant;
and Hayward put forth new efforts that resulted in a program that
modeled language use in daily life.
Hayward said the original use of simple phrases wouldnt
produce any speakers because you are telling people what they
should say. They began asking tribal members what they wanted
Hayward said language and lifestyle should be related. A school
setting requires one sort of vocabulary, a work setting another,
and at home, yet another. Our curriculum has literally turned
into exactly what people want to say. Some are good at hearing audio,
some people want video to see how your mouth forms, some want it
written down, and some want it phonetically. We just decided we
had to give people whatever they needed to speak the language, and
we saw a big change.
attend the Puyallup Language Program at the Chief Leschi School
in Puyallup, Washington.
(photo courtesy of Chief Leschi School)
The Puyallup program saw a big increase in interest after
the new media developer added additional language features to the
Puyallup website and social media. If you dont have
media developer, I strongly suggest you get one. It has allowed
people outside the community to reach our language, which they are
very hungry for, she said.
Social media has played a huge part for the Puyallup language
program. Videos made for tribal members range from simple to more
advanced. That has been a huge push within our community,
Hayward said people were intimidated by subtitled videos produced
in the beginning. So we switched to making little Facebook
videos that were partially in Twulshootseed (the Puyallup language)
and partially in English. Now people from all over are looking at
those, and people practice at home.
Hayward described what works in her tribes program
for students with no prior language skills. We have found
playing Go Fish in the language worked. We made a sheet with numbers
and face cards and translated Do You Have and No,
I Dont, into a phonetic sheet that anybody from kindergarten
to 7-year-olds can play. We do it once a week at our tribal administration
building, teachers do it at the tribal school, and for homework,
the kids play at home with family members, Hayward said. Playing
games is an incredible way to forget you are speaking another language,
and we do not allow English in that game.
Among Haywards top suggestions: make your language
popular, visible, and accessible. Speak your language in your community
with all community members. Utilize YouTube and Facebook and use
the tribes website as much as possible. Include a phrase of
the day or week with a short recording.
The program was provided by the Eastern Region Training and
Technical Assistance Center and will soon be available at the Administration
for Native Americans website along with previous programs about