Under the guidance of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, the University of Washington-Tacoma has launched the Lushootseed Language Institute, a two-week immersion program to help revitalize the Lushootseed native language spoken by several indigenous Coast Salish tribes including the Puyallup. The first day of class on Aug. 1 was kicked off with a celebratory event to mark this historic occasion and give due credence to the institute as the first ever Lushootseed immersion program on Lushootseed ancestral land.
The event was emceed by UWT Assistant Professor of American Indian Studies Danica Sterud-Miller, a key leader in bringing the institute to reality. Standing by was Zalmai Zahir, consultant with the Puyallup Language program from the University of Oregon, as the lead language teacher of the Lushootseed Language Institute. Also attending were the institute’s language teachers from the Puyallup Tribe’s Language Program: Puyallup tribal members Amber Sterud-Hayward, Archie Cantrell, Chris Duenas, and Stephanie Jackson-Louis; Angela Wymer (Snoqualmie Tribe) and Jessica Kiser from UWT. The Language Program has already been active within the Puyallup Tribe, having started its new revitalization efforts two years ago in its attempts to revitalize Lushootseed among the membership. Now, the effort is to broaden that scope into the greater community by establishing the Lushootseed Language Institute.
"This is not only an institute for the participants, but it's also an opportunity for the Puyallup Language staff to experience and participate in an immersion setting,” Sterud-Hayward said. “We get to learn how to teach in a full immersion fashion. We also get to connect with the greater community through Lushootseed."
The two-week adult Lushootseed language classes will teach people how to infuse language into their daily lives through conversation, use of language with daily activities and games – something Zahir has been implementing successfully with the Puyallup Language Program and community.
The event began with a song offered by Puyallup tribal elder David Duenas, who had written the song just for this occasion.
“It’s an honor to come out and represent our Tribe and what our young people are doing with the language,” he said. “I made a song for our young people, to honor them and I’ve named it ‘Coming Toward Something New’ because our language isn’t new but it’s being revitalized and it’s real important to our people. I want to share this song to honor that.”
Marjorie Matheson Zarate, elder and former Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council member who now works for the Puyallup Tribe, gave a prayer in Lushootseed and also offered a song. Burning sage, she explained the meaning of her prayer that was passed down to her by her father, the late Don Matheson, who was once Chairman of the Puyallup Tribe.
“As Native people, we’re part of nature and creation and believe that every living thing upon this Mother Earth and into the universe has a spirit. The prayer calls in the spirit of nature and creation and then asks very reverently to be a part of what we’re doing so that what is taking place here today is going to take root and is going to grow into something wonderful – sanctioned and blessed by nature and creation and universe itself as we embark on this new journey.”
Sterud-Miller introduced her father, Puyallup Tribal Chairman Bill Sterud, and he welcomed everyone to the Puyallup reservation. “This is an historic moment taking place here,” he said, as he then put the moment into historical perspective.
“When I was a kid, speaking English was the way it was to be because my mom said ‘you have to speak English’ and my grandma said, ‘we no longer speak our language because they take the children away.’”
Sterud said that at this moment in Puyallup tribal history a decision was made to keep the family structure together by not speaking the language in order to save families from being broken apart.
“That’s what happened to us, and some horrific land deals that took place in that world, which is behind us also. It’s a new era.”
Sterud recalled the time when downtown Tacoma was suffering with blight and crime, as opposed to now when it is a bustling place where people want to be. The construction of the UWT is a prime example of that turnaround, he said.
“When I was growing up, this was a downtrodden, unsafe area then somebody had a dream to put a school here. And that dream came true. This place is beautiful. It’s on the Puyallup reservation on an original village site and it’s being done in a very environmentally sound way. And we, the Puyallup Tribe, we’re watching. We’ve always watched this urban place develop on our reservation. To see the UWT grow is humongous as far as the people it serves and the entire community. This is a giant here.”
UWT Chancellor Dr. Mark Pagano addressed the crowd and pledged that the university would continue to be supportive of all tribal-based endeavors on campus.
“We know we are here as guests of the Puyallup people. They are our neighbors and we are tenants on their land. As an institution, we want to do everything we can to prolong and expand the tribal ways through the ways we teach our classes,” he said. “This language school, this is just the seed that starts a bigger tradition on our campus because it not only saves the language, it saves the history and the culture and it solidifies the young people if they know the language of their people.”
Sharon Parker, Assistant Chancellor for Equity & Inclusion at UW Tacoma, agreed.
“This is very important. If you’re in the land of the people, you speak the language of the people of the land. It helps to make the connection so people realize where they are and who has been here before them,” she said then to honor everyone present she distributed a perfect summertime gift – a fan – in the shape of a Husky’s paw and imprinted with “Good day to all of you, our honorable people” in Lushootseed and English.
Finally, the crowd heard from Lisa Reeves, director of the KeyBank Center for Professional Development at UWT. Sterud-Miller said the institute wouldn’t have happened without the partnership between the Puyallup Tribe, UWT and KeyBank.
“The Puyallup Tribe made a generous contribution to ensure that this institute would be here today,” Reeves said. “That donation allowed us to do our best work to put this together so that was huge.”
Each speaker was gifted with a canvas tote bag – purple in keeping with the UW colors – featuring the Lushootseed Language Institute logo created by Chris Duenas then the crowd ended the event mingling and sharing in the breakfast foods that were generously provided for this Monday morning celebration.