from the Spokane Dictionary Second Edition, compiled by Barry
F. Carlson, Pauline Pascal Flett and Deirdre Black. (Katie
Botkin / Katie Botkin photo)
Indigenous languages once considered nearly extinct could be
heard echoing through the halls of Northern Quest Resort and Casino
Small children called out to parents, and friends hailed one
another with Salish-language jokes. All were attending the 2018
Celebrating Salish Conference, which ended Friday.
The Salish language is endangered. That's true whether you're
talking about Salish proper, otherwise known as Bitterroot Salish
and historically spoken by the Flathead tribe of Western Montana;
or if you extend the term to include Kalispel and Spokane, so closely
related to Bitterroot Salish that they're typically considered dialects.
It's even true if you look to other area Inland Salish languages,
such as Coeur d'Alene and Colville-Okanagan.
The number of elders in each tribe who still speak their native
language has dwindled to a handful and in some cases, there
are none at all.
However, revitalization efforts are underway. At the casino
this week, conference workshops explored teaching using songs, games
In one immersion session, a woman wiped tears from her eyes
as she spoke, thanking the elders present. "We learn a lot from
you, even if you're just BS-ing," she said.
During another, attendees introduced themselves in the Spokane
language, offering their name, their tribe, their lineage.
An 87-year-old woman related how she learned Spokane when she
was young, but for many years didn't speak it had forgotten
it, in fact. "As I sit here and listen to people speaking Indian,
I think, ah, yes, that's right, that's what that is."
Accents and grammatical structures sometimes differed between
the elders and the younger people, who are second-language learners.
Some younger attendees spoke about how they were hesitant to speak
in Spokane because they were afraid of making errors.
The 87-year-old put a humorous spin on this: Soon, she said,
"we won't be able to criticize anybody."
Elder Pauline Flett talked about how "descriptive" Spokane is.
She gave the example of the Spokane word for long men's pants. The
root comes from "the sound of a little dog chewing," because new,
stiff jeans made a similar sound when men slid their legs into them.
Elder Pat Moses gave another example, noting that the word for
non-moccasin shoes comes from the words for "force in" and "foot."
Technical challenges were covered, as well as how technologically
adept tribal members could help even if they didn't know the language.
"I wasn't raised in the language," said Okanagan speaker Jordan
Coble, but other skills "brought me to the language, and now the
language is my path."
Levi Bent of the Syilx Language House in Penticton, B.C., told
a cautionary tale of how he once sat with an elder for many sessions
before the elder agreed to be recorded telling stories in his language.
Once Bent got home, thinking he'd "struck gold," he discovered his
recording was terrible quality. To remedy this problem, he hosted
a workshop on how to properly record elders speaking.
One workshop track was devoted entirely to youth engagement,
in Salish and English. In between icebreaker games, teens talked
about their struggles and opportunities with younger kids.
Salish-language karaoke contests and entertainment took place
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The conference concluded
Friday after language revitalization effort updates.