Crosscut: Working to preserve the Lushootseed language
"The notion that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, but rather, we borrow it from our children, has become a cliché of the environmental movement. But could the same thing be true of a language?

Lushootseed tribal language teachers, students, and advocates from around Puget Sound gathered at a conference on Saturday (May 1) to celebrate the rich cultural inheritance of their Puget Salish language, but also to assess the language's chances of survival in the 21st century. The conference, hosted by Seattle University, was guided by the idea that today's Lushootseed speakers are taking care of the language for the next generation.

Once spoken by thousands of Coast Salish people in Washington state, Lushootseed's territory extends from north of present-day Mount Vernon to south of Olympia. The northern dialect is spoken by members of the Upper Skagit, Sauk Suiattle, Swinomish, Stillaguamish, Tulalip, and Snoqualmie tribes. The southern dialect, also called Whulshootseed or Twulshootseed, is spoken by members of the Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Suquamish, Duwamish, Nisqually, and Squaxin Island tribes. Linguists classify the language as part of the Salishan family, which includes Native languages spoken in parts of Washington, British Columbia, Montana, Idaho and Oregon.

Today, few elders remain who learned Lushootseed as a first language. Tribes are working hard to make sure that the language survives, and the next few years will be critical if the language is to be revitalized to the point that children become and remain fluent speakers.

Saturday's Lushootseed conference offered a forum for teachers and students to talk about how they can share resources, from curriculum to computer programs, and what strategies can best shore up the vulnerable language."

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Preserving the Lushootseed language for the next generation (Crosscut 5/6)