The second session of a week-long Lushootseed language camp wrapped up on Friday, Aug. 20, with more than 40 youngsters participating in the finale, a re-enactment of the tribal legend "How Daylight Was Stolen."
The kids, ages 4 to 13, spent the week creating art projects and learning about the history and culture of the Tribes along with their daily lessons in the traditional tribal language. Over 100 children participated in the camp, which was broken into two 1-week sessions.
While the youngsters enjoyed learning to weave, make masks and operate a wood type printing press, modern-day technology also helped reinforce the lessons of the language.
A special Lushootseed language program has been developed for the Nintendo DSI XL, a hand-held portable video game player, using songs, stories and game techniques to help the youngsters immerse themselves in the language.
"It's a lot of fun," said 7-year-old ??. "It lets me learn what the words mean."
For many tribal elders, the resurgence of the ancient Coast Salish language is helping to heal old wounds.
"When I was a kid, we were punished for speaking our language," said Stan Jones, a long-time member of the Tulalip Board of Directors and respected tribal leader. "I know my family prayer and a few other words in Lushootseed, but my grandkids and great-grandkids can speak it much better than I can. It's an inspiration."
From 1880 to 1932, the local native children were forced to attend a boarding school on the reservation where Lushootseed was forbidden.
"We almost lost our language," said tribal spokeswoman Mytyl Hernandez, "along with tribal culture, history, spirituality, knowledge and confidence. It has taken generations to rebuild our heritage, and there is still much work to be done."
The summertime Lushootseed language camp is an important part of that work. Lessons in the ancient language continue throughout the school year, with classes at Tulalip Montessori preschool, the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program (ECEAP), Tulalip and Quil Ceda elementary schools, Heritage High School and Northwest Indian College.
For the two camp sessions, tribal member Tony Hatch conducted classes that helped the youngsters connect to their place in the world. Using hand-drawn maps that "zoomed out" from Tulalip Bay to the Puget Sound, the state, the country and the world, Hatch also talked about how their home got its name.
"Tulalip, or Dxwlilap, translates to 'far toward the bottom.' There's a sand bar that juts into the bay, and for neighboring tribes to reach the longhouse and avoid the sand bar, they had to steer their canoes toward the bottom of the bay," Hatch explained. "That's where our name comes from."
Natasha Gobin has been teaching the Lushootseed language for 10 years and is co-director of the annual summer camp.
"For the camp, we choose a theme that is taken from the vision, mission and values of the Tribes," said Gobin. "We want to instill those values in our children so they will incorporate them throughout their lives."
9-year-old Brooklyn Francis, the daughter of language department manager Michele Balagot, has been attending the camp since she was four years old. Her favorite activity is weaving, making star-shaped patterns with multi-colored raffia.
"We sing the songs at home," said Brooklyn, "so I've heard them before. But I learn more about them here, and what the stories mean to us."
That's the whole idea, said Gobin. That connection with the Tribes' legacy is vital to modern-day members.
"Our Coast Salish Lushootseed language is an effective vehicle for us to perpetuate and permanently preserve this region's history, culture, values, spirituality and language," said tribal chairman Mel Sheldon, "which existed thousands of years before the arrival of Western civilization.
12-year-old Donovan Hamilton summed up the reason behind the camp and the language lessons.