The Kalispel/Flathead Trip Report

Lunch the WAYK presentation at Salish-Kootenai College

Here’s an account of our recent trip to the Flathead Reservation by our very own April Charlo.  Also, expect more podcasts and blog posts to come soon, we’ve been very busy these past few weeks and are just now starting to get caught up on the nitty gritty.

This is my first blog post and I had a really fun time writing, and writing, and writing.  So it is very long and detailed.  If you need to be quick about it, read the synopsis and watch the videos.  Enjoy!

Synopsis of this Blog:

On the drive to Spokane I downloaded a lot of rides to Sky.  We had a great time at a language program in Usk Washington.  Our Salish Social on my Reservation was amazing and my language community enjoyed their experience of seeing how the WAYK system works.

The Gist:

September 7th, 2011 interns Sky Hopinka, David Edwards and April Charlo (that’s me) were all packed waiting on the stoop for Evan Gardner.  Ok, not really.  We aren’t those kinds of interns.  We are the “too busy to pack and do laundry kind” because we are working on podcasts, websites, and bylaws.  So it was a surprise to find out at the breakfast table that we all had to do laundry.  Nevertheless, when Evan arrived we strategically packed all our belongings in the trunk of Sky’s shiny new blue race car.

We left right about 6pm with buzzing excitement for what is about to happen in the upcoming days.

But first, here’s a little of my background: I am from the Flathead Reservation which is located in Northwest Montana.   We have three tribes and two languages, Bitteroot Salish, Pen d’Orielle and Kootenai.  Salish and Pend d’Oreille are pretty much the same, the only differences is a word here or there that is different and Kootenai is completely different.   I have actively been in the trenches working with my language since 2007.  We looked at many programs like TPRS, TPR like the Maori and Hawaiians use, and finally settled on using a new system that was just being developed by the Kalispel Tribe in Washington.  We had decent success, I can hold a conversation pretty well at about intermediate mid level on the ACTFL scale.

When I was introduced to the “Where Are Your Keys?” system that fateful day in Portland, I immediately understood how the methods and techniques could get a person fluent in no time at all and from that moment on I knew I had to bring “Where Are Your Keys?” home.   Then we were in Madras doing our awesome “Where Are Your Keys?” thing and one day the opportunity presented itself to broach the subject of going to Montana with Evan and the team.  Next thing I know Evan is saying something like, “Well of course we are going to Flathead!” Just like that, the date was set, plans were made, and now you are up to speed.

The Car Set Up:

Energy Levels:  High with excitement

Driving:  Sky

Passenger: April (me)

Back Seat: David-driver side, Evan-passenger side

About 8.5 miles out, Sky asks me, “Do you have the want, have, give, take Salish rides down?”

I answer “Yeah”.

Next, Sky says, “Well, run me through them.”

In a scamper I dug through my purse and pulled out a pack of gum and a pen.  I put the pen on his side of the dashboard and the gum on mine and off we went.  That was about 6:37 and in an hour Sky, with having no previous lesson in Salish, was speaking like a pro.  He had the target vocabulary, along with “what is that?” “make me say yes” and “make me say no” and “mine, and yours.”

In an hour Evan stopped us and did a full check.  Sky wasn’t full at all and to my surprise I was pretty close to drowning.  I felt myself becoming full but didn’t want to stop because of how I was once again mesmerized at how amazing the WAYK system works.  Here I was downloading rides in a car to a person who was driving a car and signing at the same time and learning a language faster than I have ever seen anyone learn my language.  And this is a language that has been proclaimed by some to be “unlearnable”.   But also at the same time I hadn’t tested out the rides on anyone and I had to create some pieces on the fly, and not being sure if those pieces were correct was so very filling.  Also, I didn’t want to stop either because I wanted to see Sky get to want, have, give, take.  So I applied the WAYK dirty little secret and TQ: Rise Above and we got into mine, yours, want, have, give, take for the next half hour.

And here is a little video of the car ride:

Sky did an amazing job pulling me through the creations of the rides by stopping me and helping me to create and hone the Criagslists for “want, have, give, take.”  At some point Evan flexed his Bruce Lee muscles and called full on us.  And he was right, we were both super full but still, neither of us wanted to stop.  One of us tried to pacify him by saying “Ok we will stop when we get to the next mile marker.”  But still we couldn’t stop.  Finally he had to say “Ok stop now…ok that’s enough now” in his kind, Bruce Lee voice.  Looking back on it now the only way it makes sense to describe it is you know those vampire movies where the new vampires don’t know when to stop sucking blood before they kill their prey? I think its kind of like that, but instead of blood, its language downloads.   We stopped for a break at Biggs and before we got out of the car Evan said, “Now I mean it, take a break.   No Salish for at least an hour.”

I walked in the store laughing, cracking jokes with Evan and David and even though my head felt like it could explode at any moment, my heart was giddy.  It had been a long time since I have taught my language, but never in my time as a teacher have I been able to create a speaker with whom I could have a solid conversation with in just an hour!

We get back in the car and I gotta tell ya, it was really hard to keep the agreement.  At one point Sky and I were whispering to each other in Salish about wanting candy.  About 40 minutes later one of us asks Evan, “Can we start yet?”  Evan of course laughed and gave us our wishful green light and again we were off and running.  And my novice downloading skills filled Sky up in about half an hour.  I think I was so excited that Sky was learning so fast that I just wanted to download everything I possibly could and so I started throwing more at Sky without a solid set up.  He called limit on me more than a few times and eventually because I kept doing it, called full.  In my defense, HOW FACINATING!

Sky got in the back and David got in the front with me.  David hunted me before and had a pretty good handle on enough language to visit me in Salish.  So I was able to keep rattling Salish off with him, but of course our rattling ended up in a shouting Salish match.  Again, HOW FACINATING!

During operation Plan Flathead Presentation, I suggested we also meet up with JR Bluff, a pretty smart guy who is running a language program in Usk Washington.  The Qelispe (Kalispel) language is also Salish with the same sort of minor differences like with Pend d’Oreille.  I put in a call to JR Bluff to see if he would like us to come through and show him what we were doing and being the cool guy he is, scheduled us to present to his class and my god dad, Johnny Arlee.  So that was added to the itinerary for Thursday morning.

We arrived in Spokane at Zan Azigian’s apartment right about midnight.  Zan is not only one of my Dad’s really good friends but is his co-playwright.  We planned on making the pit stop at her house and getting up super early to get to Usk the next morning.

Sleeping arrangements:  All of us in the living room

Floor: David and Evan

Cot:  Sky

Pull out Bed: April (me)

The gang and Zan

We arrived in Usk Washington about 9:30am with a plan.

Qelispe Agenda:

Observe their class in session

Evan talks about Techniques and ACTFL

Me and Sky run through rides and strategically seat fluent speaker Johnny Arlee next to me so he could verify, fix or tweak as we went along and Evan doing a TQ: Sportscaster during our demonstration.

David puts on a hunting show with Johnny

We have a visit, eat lunch and answer questions

What ended up happening was we got there and they didn’t have class but made a huge impression with their introduction.  They had eight students, JR, Johnny and another elder.  Every single one of them introduced themselves in the language.  And it wasn’t just a, “Hi my name is______”.  Pretty much almost all of them introduced themselves in a paragraph.  The last time I had seen JR was when I met him during his demonstration on our reservation several years back.  Needless to say I was very impressed with the success of the program.

Another important note: Johnny introduced himself and signed through his introduction which blew my group away.  After the introductions and we had a little break Evan asked me, “Does Johnny know sign?!” When I said yes, he almost went into convulsions.  Once I saw Johnny signing, I remembered that he used to teach it back in the day.  If I hadn’t forgot, I would have told Evan a long time ago.  I think it was cooler for Evan to find out the way he did though.  Johnny doesn’t use ASL, but Salish Plains signs and we were able to incorporate the signs he used for “yes” and “no.”

After the introductions, JR took about 20 minutes and talked about what they were doing and it’s pretty intense.  They are getting tribal money to fund the program and pay three tribal members full time and the other students are hired out of another fund.  They are in immersion all morning and then some of the students go to the high school and teach, and the others go to the preschool.  The system they are using has been designed and developed by Chris Parkin and  implemented by JR and Johnny.  JR said that they had a vocabulary of about 2500 words and that the students are blazing through it.  I know the first year curriculum pretty well because that is what our program was modeling our curriculum in the past, but our program ended before we could start to explore the second unit, and the third unit is still being created.

Next Evan did his thing and they of course thought he was entertaining and laughed at all the right moments.  Heck he still cracks me up.  The man puts on a pretty good show.  After he was done we took a little break and me and Sky set up our bucket.

I explained to the group before we started that Sky had only started to learn Salish the night before IN the CAR while DRIVING and this is how far he got.  I also explained to them that I knew a lot of Salish but didn’t realize until I sat down to start creating rides that I didn’t exactly know how to say “What is that?” I knew there were like 4-5 different ways to ask but didn’t know which one to use and realized that even though I rank close to advanced I had some pretty big holes in my language.   I told them that I know with the WAYK system I could quickly be able to determine what the holes are and fix them immediately.

The set up: Small table, me and Sky sitting across from one another with a black pen in front of Sky, and the gum in front of me.  Johnny was flanked on my right and the rest of the class was standing around or sitting lunatic fringe.

We went through the whole ride and to my amazement it only needed minor tweaking.  I was worried about Sky being thrown a curve ball with the fixes but he adapted right there on the spot which was so cool to see.

We knew going in that JR has done a lot with his program and we weren’t aiming to change his curriculum, rather we wanted to share WAYK techniques with the idea of helping him shave off pennies.  From our perspective everyone enjoyed themselves and had a good time including us.

We were told that if we got in the car and left at 1:30pm we would make it on time to Montana by 6:30pm for my presentation at Salish Kootenai College.  This was a non-related WAYK presentation but in hindsight I should have showed them techniques.  It was for the juniors and seniors in the SKC Elementary Education Department.  I have a Healthy Native Community Fellowshiw team member who is still active in using the fellowship tools in our community named Linda Ferris.  Our agenda for our hour included an HNCF ice breaker called Rez Life and an activity called “Deep Listening”.  I hadn’t been able to use this tool in our Numu family because of time constraints and I really wanted the guys to do it, so I used my cleverness and FINALLY, the guys are deep listeners.  Or, kinda…listening is like a muscle, it can’t be learned in one shot, but they got to experience the activity, which is pretty powerful in itself.

The presentation was a success and I walked out of there full as full can be.  Then we went to my mom’s house, which is an hour south of the college.

Sleeping arrangements at Jan Charlo’s house:

April was in the small guest/kids room.

Evan on the couch, Sky on the floor in the living room

David Edwards was given the room downstairs because of his allergies of cats.  Mom said the cat “NEVER” goes downstairs and of course David Edwards woke up with Shere Khan sleeping on his face.  So needless to say, David was miserable with allergies the rest of the weekend.

The next morning we were planning on waking up at 7am.  I woke up at 9:30 staggered out to see Sky still asleep on the floor and my mom making coffee.  “What’s going on?” Was all I could muster out of the nonsense I was seeing.  Turns out, Evan didn’t take into account the time difference.  Not a surprise because we were completely exhausted from not getting very much sleep at Zan’s the night before and blazing across a few states in one day.

We get ready, readjusted our game plan for the day and zoomed up to the College and arrived with a half an hour till go time.  This is where I would like to say, if my mom hadn’t been there we would have been in trouble.

Event: Salish Social with WAYK

Where: Salish Kootenai College

Lunch: Sponsored by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Tobacco Prevention Program (Cristen Two Teeth, you ROCK!”

Time: Noon-4pm (but I scheduled the room until 6pm just in case conversations lingered into the night)

FaceBook Attending Confirmations:  27

How many actually showed up: 21 (Not toooo shabby)

I kept the invites to a minimum and didn’t want to go all crazy.  I knew that I didn’t want this trip to be about selling WAYK, rather I wanted to share it with my language community, how this could be a fast way to learn Salish.

Salish Social Game Plan:

Greeter: April (me)

Get the Party Started: Sky and David running a bucket

Food Prep: Jan and Evan

The bucket...waiting...wanting to play.

The buckets were in party mode with people busting in and out of the inner circle.  When lunch was ready, Evan said he counted the people in the line and there were 25 people.  The after lunch plans included the group watching me and Sky demo, and then they would bust out into three other buckets and run the rides.

Sky and I got the party started in the bucket and were demoing the rides we created.  I had fluent speaker on my right and the party is rocking.  Then all of a sudden, the fluent speaker throws a TQ curve ball into our plans and starts grilling the process.  She is a feisty one but I think she doesn’t want to be at that kind of lower level speaking, where there is a lot of repetition and such.  So after that Sky and I finish the rides out and we take a break.  I became aware that there were buzzing conversations happening around the room and since I couldn’t’ be in every conversation I suggested that we group up and start the Q&A.

I was really hoping that my friends would see how amazing this system is just like I did when Sky ran me through it that one Friday in June, and they did, they got it.  They are still asking questions and one friend is going to try to run through a couple of the rides with her students.    So now all we need to do is find the money to get us there so we can pass off the WAYK system to my ready and waiting community.  I feel that the group was impressed over the process and I think surprised at how much Sky could wield in the language.  On a side note Sky was told by the elder that he had good pronunciation!  Made my day AND proves even more that the WAYK system works.

-April

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