Daily Astorian

default avatar
Welcome to the site! Login or Signup below.
|
||
Logout|My Dashboard

Tribe works to keep Umatilla language alive

Young woman delights audience with ‘Star-Spangled Banner’

Print
Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 11:02 am

PENDLETON — Tribal members living in the Pendleton Round-Up’s teepee village stopped, listened and reacted with joy when Carina Vasquez-Minthorn sang the national anthem at last week’s Happy Canyon Night Show.

Vasquez-Minthorn, 20, a Happy Canyon princess, sang in the Umatilla language for the first time at the show. Some cried, others clapped and cheered.

“She hadn’t told me she was going to sing in Umatilla,” said Vasquez-Minthorn’s grandmother, Marjorie Waheneka. “I was telling everyone, ‘That’s Carina, that’s Carina!”’

Like many native languages, the Nez Perce language and Sahaptin language group – including Umatilla and Walla Walla – are no longer the mother tongues of most tribal members. Government boarding schools in the 19th and 20th centuries forbade tribal members from speaking their native language, and for many years tribal members focused less on their own verse and more on becoming masters of English.

But with the loss of language comes loss of culture. All the nuances of explaining something, all the different words for plants, elk, deer and salmon, help infuse tradition and values into a person, interpreter Thomas Morning Owl said.

Morning Owl teaches language at Nixyaawii Community School and helped develop the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s language program.

“You’re building a whole new person when you teach a language to someone,” said Morning Owl, who translated the Star-Spangled Banner for Vasquez-Minthorn to sing at the 100th Round-Up in 2010. “I figure, get it out there, get it out there. If I die and I have kept the language in my head, I steal it from the future generations.”

Only about five Walla Walla native speakers are alive today and about 50 native Umatilla speakers.

In the last few decades, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation has had a language program to help get back to its lingual roots.

There are six full-time language instructors in CTUIR. Nixyaawii Community School has offered Umatilla, Walla Walla and Nez Perce language classes for the last decade and a Cay-Uma-Wa Head Start program is being developed to reach children while they’re young. There are also online video resources and the Tamaluut immersion school, a new language immersion program for three- to five-year-olds.

“We need to teach the language while the speakers are still here, (while) they’re still alive,” Vasquez-Minthorn said.

“Taymusiya” is what the Columbia River languages now call “cellphones.” It comes from a story about a little black cloud that sees where everyone goes. “Wiyatimasha,” or “going along and writing,” is texting.

The modern words are a mark of a living, growing language.

“I tell my students, ‘Don’t be afraid of it,” Morning Owl said. “The language is not mine. It is theirs to do what they want with it.”

That can sometimes be a scary thought for the older generation. A living history coordinator at Tamastslikt Cultural Institute, Waheneka sees a fizzling of many young people’s motivation to learn the language.

“In the end, it is up to the individual to keep that going,” she said.

Like her parents and grandparents, Waheneka would speak to her three boys at dinner time in the Columbia River languages. Vasquez-Minthorn said she plans to carry on the tradition with her children, something that brings a smile to her grandmother’s face.

Waheneka explained that like shelter, food and clothing, language is integral to a community.

© 2014 Daily Astorian. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language. PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
  • 2 Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
  • 3 Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
  • 4 Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 5 Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 6 Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Welcome to the discussion.

Connect with Daily Astorian Sports

[x]