Speak the language: Cultural committee keeps Salish language alive

The Selis Qlispe Cultural Committee thrives for everyone to speak the Salish language
cultural camp
Posted at 5:03 PM, Jun 25, 2024

When a language is at risk, you bring it to life with your voice. That is exactly what the Selis Qlispe Cultural Committee is doing.

“Our main goal is to get people talking the language as much as possible,” Selis Qlispe Cultural educator Shirley Trahan says.

 Trahan has committed her life to teaching and learning the Salish way of life. She hopes to encourage the next generation to learn where they come from.

 A group of elders started the Selis Qlispe Cultural Committee in 1974 with a mission to save the language.

“Preserving our language is probably one of the most important things to the Salish and Pend d'Oreille people,” Selis Qlispe Cultural Committee co-founder Lucy Vanderburg.

 From translating cassette tapes to advanced technology the resources have come a long way since the beginning.

The Cultural Committee now offers an adult language program where students are immersed in the Salish language on a daily basis.

“The goal of them (students) is so they leave here with a little bit language, whether they're going to be teachers in the community or teachers in the school system,” Selis Qlispe Cultural Committee Director Sadie Peone Stops said.

 They also offer several events open to the community including a one week cultural camp in the summer.

But the language is much more than speaking, it is a connection to their past and present as indigenous people.

“It’s our identity, we need to have our identity to help our youngsters and those still not here yet,” Trahan says.

“If we don't know our language, we don't know our culture, we don't know our history and who are we,” Stops said, “We need to know our culture, we need to know our songs, we need to know who we are as a people.”

“Our language carries the worldview of our ancestors,” Salish Language Program Manager Melanie Sandoval says. "When you start speaking the language, you start seeing things through their eyes and how they describe the world around them. And we want to be able to give that to our younger people so that they're able to describe the world as they see it now in their own words, but also see it in the way through their ancestor's eyes.”

The Cultural Committee offers language classes throughout the year and wants to encourage everyone to come and speak the language.