Sleeping Language Awakens In Deer Park

Deer Park Library hosted a group that is teaching what many would say is a sleeping or endangered language. Recently I was talking to a woman who was very excited that a children’s book that she had written was going to be translated into Salish. I had never heard about the Salish Language so when I got home I did some research online. I found that on May 8th at 6:30 pm, the Deer Park Library was hosting an event for people to understand the culture of the Salish language. Doing further research, I found out that Salish was the original language spoken by the natives of the Pacific Northwest, the very soil I walk on everyday. I also learned that it was originally not a written language and is critically endangered, with fewer fluent speakers every day. I decided to go to the library and learn even more about the language as well as the the people this affects the most. I am glad I did.

The presentation at the Deer Park Library was done by the Salish School of Spokane. The school is a complete language immersion. The school translates all their curriculum into the Salish Language themselves and require all their students’ parents to participate and learn the language also. They had set out a table with all sorts of reading material translated into Salish, including some of my son’s favorite Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems.

The presentation was mostly done by four of the elementary and middle age school students that attend Salish School of Spokane. Some of the children introduced themselves in Salish using the other children as interpreters. To me, it was fascinating to see how much pride these young people took in their ancestry as well as their strong desire to educate others. Their presentation included songs in their native language that were familiar like Hickory Dickory Dock and others not familiar; these were called Stick Game songs.

I did notice my youngest son wiggling in his seat before he stated he wanted to go because they did not make sense. He said this rather loudly in his 7 year old way and it made me realize that at his age I was living in the Philippines. For me hearing different dialects was comforting, to him unsettling. The presenters responded to his interruption with kindness and were willing to draw him in instead of being mad over his rude comment. They answered his questions about their drums, which led to one of the children explaining how the drum he had was made by his grandmother when she was a child but the boy had it decorated with feathers to represent him.

At the end of the presentation the presenters taught us how to say a handful of common phrases in Salish, such as, “hello, my name is,” “what is your name?” “hi and goodbye”. By this time my 7 year old was engaged and willing to learn from the other kids. To me this showed how the Salish School of Spokane was not just giving the children an education, but training them to teach others about their heritage in a way that is inviting and exciting to learn. The Deer Park Library will be hosting Salish Songs & Stories with LaRae Wiley on July 2nd at 10:30am in the Arcadia Elementary Gym. I would encourage people to come and enjoy.

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