Tribal elder shares language at museum
CHARLO — Every Mission Valley critter stood motionless as Stipn Small Salmon, a full-blood Pend d’Oreille Indian and elder with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, chatted effortlessly with children at Ninepipes Museum Aug. 3.
Small Salmon asked questions of the children visiting from the Boys and Girls Club of the Flathead Indian Reservation and Lake County.
After asking each child their age, some picked up on the humorous mood Small Salmon was creating.
“I’m infinity,” said Koko Scott, age 6.
“How old are you?” one child asked in reply.
“I’m 77,” Small Salmon said. “I walk everyday. I don’t drink pop or eat sweet stuff like candy bars.”
The children were anxious for Small Salmon to wear his regalia headpiece. “Hold your horses — whoa,” he said, laughing.
Once secured to his head, Small Salmon began dancing, encouraging children to sing a song.
“One little, two little, three little Indians,” he chanted, responding to one comment, “We’re not making fun of anyone, we’re just having fun.”
Small Salmon has taught language at the Nkwusm Salish School in Arlee for 14 years, and is seeing progress.
“We are losing our language,” he said, “but now it is starting to spread out more and more.”
The growth of the language was evident as several kids recited Indian phrases, counted to five, and repeated the names of mounted animals in the museum’s extensive diorama.
“You know a lot of stuff. Who teaches you?” Small Salmon asked Elijah Cole, 6.
“My mom,” Elijah said. Following the conversation, children drew images of coyotes, bison and a large buckskin teepee standing in the museum.
Small Salmon explained that the teepee is very old, recalling how his mother stitched a teepee by hand.
“Now, we use canvas and sewing machines,” he said.
The event was one of several cultural activities club members have attended throughout the summer. Other events included a trip to the National Bison Range, a talk on birds in the region, and information about a native wildlife app the tribes created for smart phones.