Friday, April 24, 2009

NAT: Kalispel Speakers

Speakers try to keep rare language alive
The deaths of 11 elders of the Kalispel Tribe within three months of each other caused members to worry about the survival of their native language.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The deaths of 11 elders of the Kalispel Tribe within three months of each other caused members to worry about the survival of their native language.

"It is said if we lose our language we are not going to be a tribe anymore," said Francis Cullooyah, one of more than 64 speakers of Southern Interior Salish who gathered for a language summit at Spokane Falls Community College this week.

No one can remember a gathering of so many speakers of the first language of the Inland Northwest, Michelle Wiley-Bunting, board president of the Center for Interior Salish, told The Spokesman-Review.

There are few fluent speakers left of the language once heard from Vernon, British Columbia, to Vantage, Wash., and from Wenatchee to the Bitterroot Valley of Montana.

"Our elders taught us that we are like brothers because of our language," said Coeur d'Alene tribal member Felix Aripa.

He spoke in English and Coeur d'Alene, one of seven dialects of Southern Interior Salish spoken at Wednesday's meeting. Also attending were speakers of Kalispel, Spokane, Colville Okanogan, Wenatchee-Columbian, Pend Oreille and Montana Salish.

Not represented at the conference were speakers of the three Northern Interior Salish dialects: Shuswap, Thompson and Lillooet, all in Canada.

"Our language is our culture," Aripa said. "It is how we learned about our animals, our plants and our mountains. And that's what, through the language, we want to teach our kids."

Cullooyah said Kalispel is taught at Cusick, Wash., schools, and the tribe is transcribing the spoken language using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

He said only he and two other people are fluent in Kalispel.

There are believed to be two fluent speakers of Coeur d'Alene, six who speak Spokane, and five who speak Wenatchee-Columbian, according to the Center for Interior Salish. There are about 200 fluent speakers of Colville-Okanagan, three-quarters of whom live on the Canadian side of the border.

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