The sounds of the Salish language were heard in the halls of Selkirk Middle School for the first time last week when middle school students at the Salish School of Spokane met some of their counterparts to teach them about the history of the Native American language and the tribes that speak it.
The seventh-graders from Selkirk met with the Salish School students in small and large groups to learn some Salish words. One of the main goals of the Salish School is to preserve the language, which has few native speakers left.
“This is a really cool opportunity for the students here to learn about a different culture,” said Selkirk principal Ty Larsen.
The Salish School of Spokane, at 4125 N. Maple St., is a Salish language immersion school.
“We spend all day speaking in Salish,” lead teacher Daniel Burdett said. “Everything else we do is the same – we just do it in Salish.”
The Salish School students each brought a small handheld drum, and the group performed several songs, including one about the kokanee salmon. The salmon were an important food source for local tribes.
“Songs are really important,” Burdett said. “That’s a big way of learning language.”
The rest of the large group gathering was more of a history lesson, including discussions about who named the Salish language and the origin of the word Spokane.
Stacy Pecha, who teaches seventh grade language arts and history, said she was looking for experiences her students could participate in connected to local history.
“The secret behind learning is to create connections,” she said. “There’s so much rich history here.”
She had driven by the Salish School of Spokane and decided to reach out to see if they could collaborate. She received a $500 grant from the Washington Education Association to make it possible.
“Kids are going to absorb so much more from their peers,” she said.
Burdett said he was excited about the collaboration as well. “It’s a good experience for my kids to experience a large middle school,” he said.
“That’s what we can offer in exchange,” Pecha said.
The Salish School is small, with around 60 students. Many students stay for multiple years, Burdett said. It’s not required that students be Native American, but many of them are.
“Anyone who wants to come, can,” he said. “Parents have to commit to learning the language, too. It’s a big commitment.”
The Salish School students marveled at the size of the new school in Liberty Lake and how many students are in it. Burdett said they were particularly impressed by the number of choices on the lunch menu.
Kalen Nissen, 14, has attended the Salish School for about 10 years. He considers himself almost fluent in Salish and said he loves his school.
“I love how I always feel supported,” he said. “They love me for who I am. It’s really like a family. We all really care about each other.”
Nissen is an enrolled member of the Colville Tribes, where his father has been a board member. It was his father who first heard about the Salish School when Nissen was younger and decided to sign him up. Nissen said he tried public school for a semester in the third grade.
“It was nice, but back then I had long hair and I got bullied for that, so I cut it,” he said.
He said he was excited to be able to share his language and his culture with the students at Selkirk Middle School.
“When they told us, I was excited,” he said. “We want to get our language and our culture out there.”
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