Meet Melissa

Alina, Stevie, and Melissa make WAYK Portland State University

Blog 1: What did WAYK at PSU give you?

I was a Senior at Portland State University in my second to last term when I decided to attend a Chinuk Wawa language class held at the Native Center. There were two passionate teachers, Sky Hopinka and Stevie Lemke that made me feel welcome even though I did not really have an idea of who they were or what this Where Are Your Keys?  was about. They both taught me the basic techniques and would spend extra time outside of class to speak Chinuk Wawa. When attending the Chinuk Wawa class, I noticed it was the first time in a language class where I did not feel pressured to know how to speak or forced to reproduce answers for a test.

I started out playing the game and quickly was told to teach, like many of the people who come at least once. After my first couple of classes I became interested in having an internship with WAYK to learn more about the methodology while receiving required college credits. I was able to witness and be a part of this Chinuk Wawa group that became a community of speakers, not only from PSU but other community members would attend. It evolved into Chinuk being spoken in the Native Center and having a home in the Native center 2 days a week for 2 hours. I learned how to teach a language and work with all different levels of fluency by using the techniques as guidelines. More importantly, I understood how to listen and help other people reach their goal of fluency.

 Initially, I knew nothing about Chinuk culture nor knew anything about the history of their language. I was fortunate to be able to ask people in the Chinuk Wawa group and many other knowledgeable community members about the many influences on Chinuk Wawa and it’s speakers. The most remarkable aspect of the class was how we all learned so much about the history of the Portland area and the people who resided there, even though we were not in a formal college class. Being a part of the Chinuk Wawa group resulted in me getting heavily involved in many of the activities at the Native Center. I ended up enjoying, volunteering, and attending events at PSU and through out the Portland community.

By participating in the Chinuk Wawa group, I was able to attend many workshops and conferences through WAYK. We were able to travel to California and other parts of Oregon to meet other people who were trying to revitalize their language. It was inspiring to hear the stories of language groups who were introducing WAYK to their community and adapting it to their language. The Chinuk Wawa group and WAYK showed me that I was passionate about language revitalization and how I want to pursue this work for my future career. I realized creating language communities is a goal for all groups and the struggle is finding a method that is fast and easy for all ages.

Being Passamaquoddy, I have always wanted to learn my language and the cultural traditions of my people by communicating in our language. Where Are Your Keys? (WAYK) was a teaching method that revitalized my hope and ambition to learn how to build a strong language communities while continuing the path to fluency. The reason why this teaching method works is because it is a game designed for all members of the community. Our philosophy is that we create “language teacher makers”, its the idea that every person must develop teaching skills while learning the language to be able to share the language and build a community of speakers. The game utilizes the strengths of sign language, various techniques, and props. The design is about reaching fluency as quickly as possible and modifying the lessons to achieving this goal. After nearly seven months of being a part of WAYK, I am ready to take this PSU experience and head back home to see how we can continue the movement in other tribes.

Thank you to Evan Gardner, a mentor and friend who encouraged me to take on the world. To Sky Hopinka, Stevie Lemke, and Alina Begay for always teaching me how to be a better human being. And finally, hayi masi pus konaway Chinuk Wawa tilicum uk kumtux pi wawa Chinuk Wawa.

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