The Bend Bulletin, the central Oregon newspaper, ran an article last week about the continuation of the summer language program at Madras High School. Since the completion of the WAYK Summer Institute, several of the Warm Springs students and their teacher, Becky Dudney, were able to incorporate WAYK into their Native American Culture class:
Learning the language of their ancestors
* Warm Springs elders share their knowledge at Madras High School
By Duffie Taylor
/ The Bulletin
MADRAS — “Sumu yoo, Waha yoo, Pahe yoo.”
Students stand in a circle and count “one, two, three” in Numu, the language of the Northern Paiute that’s still spoken by a handful of elders of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
It’s Tuesday afternoon at Madras High School in an elective class on Warm Springs culture.
Two days a week, 33 students from all high school grades teach and learn the language of their ancestors or their peers.
Shirley Tufti, a 73-year-old Warm Springs resident and fluent Numu speaker, observes many students she’s known since they were children speaking the rarely heard language to each other.
“I think it’s really good. My own grandkids can’t speak it. I’m sorry now I didn’t teach them when they were small.”
Tufti is one of a dozen or so elders who live on the reservation and still speak Native American languages. Though three Native American languages are spoken in Warm Springs, the numbers of fluent speakers are rapidly diminishing, she said.
Tufti has worked with the Warm Springs Culture and Heritage Department on the reservation since 1994. This summer, she taught Numu to seven Madras High School students on the reservation as part of a language revitalization program sponsored by the Bend-based enterprise “Where Are Your Keys,” or WAYK. WAYK founder Evan Gardner said the purpose of his organization is to keep dying languages alive and increase language fluency through games and activities that drive the language-acquisition process.
An international language facilitator, Gardner said he sees a need for programs that will encourage Warm Springs youth to learn and pass on their ancestral languages.
Gardner said he became inspired by the idea of a Warm Springs language summer program after attending a Native American language conference where most attendees were 80 or older.
“If the kids do not take the languages over and spread them like a virus, there’s probably a good chance they won’t survive,” he said.
The teacher of the Warm Springs culture class, Becky Dudney, emphasized the widespread desire by students to learn Native American languages. Before she started teaching the class in 2009, Dudney said, a schoolwide study showed there was great student support for additional classes on Native American culture and language.
Dudney also heads the high school’s cultural enrichment club and was one of the driving forces behind incorporating the burgeoning Numu language learners and the WAYK language model into the high school classroom.
Dudney teaches Native American history and culture the rest of the week alongside Warm Springs elders, who pass on a wide range of skills on subjects such as ancient salmon fishing practices and Native American flute-playing.
“There is hunger from elders to pass on their knowledge to these kids,” Dudney said.
The hunger, Dudney said, goes both ways and can even reside in students outside the Warm Springs Reservation community.
“There are kids who genuinely want to know who they live next to, who genuinely want to find out about their peers,” she said.
Walter Payne, an 18-year-old Madras High senior, was one of the seven involved in the Warm Springs summer program and now helps teach his fellow students.
“No one in my family now speaks a different language,” Payne said. “This is part of my culture and my part of my community. My mom thought it was pretty cool I was learning it.”
Although funding for cultural classes and programs has been difficult to obtain, Dudney said the district has an agreement with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to provide cultural education to its Native American students. Providing that education was part of the treaty reached between the tribes and the federal government in 1855.
“The very vision I and my colleagues have for expanding Native American studies at Madras High School lies within the already established laws,” Dudney wrote in an email. “I believe in it, so that’s why I do it.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0376, email@example.com
From bendbulletin.com – published daily in Bend, Oregon, by Western Communications, Inc. Copyright 2005.