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Nkwusm Salish Language Institute students graduate

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ARLEE — The Arlee community held a powwow in honor of two Nkwusm Salish Language Institute graduates last weekend, celebrating their achievement with prayer, song, dance, food and drums.

Graduates Mars Sandoval and Nicole Perry will attend Arlee High School in the fall, and while both said they were happy to have graduated, neither wanted to leave Nkwusm. 

“I feel sad,” Perry said. “I’ve been at the school since I was small, and they’re like my family. I don’t want to leave them.”

Sandoval, the first student to go through the school from when he was a toddler to graduation, had similar emotions. 

“It’s rewarding,” he said. “Scary, but rewarding. I thought (the Nkwusm experience) was really fun.”

After the grand entry, led by the CSKT Veteran Warrior’s Society and several elders, Perry and Sandoval sat in front of the audience while many board members and elders gave speeches in their honor before continuing with the powwow. 

The head teacher at Nkwusm, Pat Pierre, said many tribal people stopped speaking their language after suffering abuse at the hands of their schoolteachers. 

“If they got caught speaking their language, they got punished,” he said. “So the language has kind of drifted off.”

With this in mind, Nkwusm was founded to get more children in the school and keep the language and culture alive and well. Pierre said that with the language and the culture comes a sense of purpose and pride, and he wants to pass that on to the next generation. 

“We have a lot of teenagers that are totally lost,” he said. “They don’t know their identity, they’re lost. The brightest part of the day and they’re walking in darkness, and that’s sad.”

Not far behind Pierre, a drum circle comprised of three generations of Pierre’s family sang and drummed, aiding in the procession. 

“If we get our children back into the culture, back into the language, get them back into appreciating their surroundings, they get back that feeling of who they are,” Pierre said. “Identity, that’s the main purpose of our school. To bring back the identity of our children, so when they grow up they know who they are. When they’re walking down the street, their heads are up.”

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