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New organization forms to sustain culture, language

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ST. IGNATIUS — When Patty Stevens invited members and supporters of the Salish Institute to her home on a Sunday afternoon; there was only one stipulation: no English. It was the perfect opportunity to blend the different levels of Salish speakers to practice, teach and learn.

Instilling and sustaining the Salish language is just one of the many goals of the newly formed Salish Institute.

The group is a community-based nonprofit organization that strives to improve the health, culture, education and environment of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Some of the activities the group plans to support include the youth horse camp hosted by the Stevens, fishing camps, bitterroot digs and a summer adult Salish language institute. The idea for the organization was the brainchild of Chaney Bell, Rosie Matt and Echo Brown.

The group held their first meeting Oct. 20 and it was attended by 35 community members.

“Everyone stayed to the end; we went until about 11:30 p.m.” Stevens said. “It was really awesome.”

The idea of the first meeting was to get community input and talk about how to start the institute. One thing that seemed to always pop up during the discussion was language revitalization.

Stevens agreed, and after the second meeting Nov. 2, she invited those interested to gather at her house to learn to speak Salish.

“We formed a nonprofit because it’s for everyone,” Brown said. “(And) it’s not controlled by the (tribal) council or a certain group.”

Brown said often there is too much disagreement about nuances of the language, including between different levels of power and generations of Salish speakers.

Ruth Swaney used the example of the English word “telephone.” Swaney said if she were to tell a young child to hand her the “telephone,” they would not know the word. She said they might know “phone,” but more than likely will recognize the word “cell” or “cellphone” instead.

“We use language to match the world we are in,” Swaney said.

As the group continues to meet, it will work to decide the direction and goals of the new organization.

“The main point of the Salish Institute is (language, culture, environment, etc) can’t be separated,” Matt said.

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