Irene McCloud came into the Lushotseed Language Institute (LLI) as a student but she’ll leave as a teacher. The 29-year-old works for the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s Early Head Start Program. “We don’t have a language curriculum at the school,” she said. “I want to learn some basics and pass that on to kids in the program.”
McCloud admits to some initial hesitation. She’d never taken a language course before. “I wasn’t sure how much I was supposed to know or be able to say,” she said. Instructors with the LLI assuaged McCloud’s fears. “They are very reassuring,” she said. “If you mess up they encourage you to keep speaking.”
McCloud is a member of the Puyallup Tribe but she has strong connections to the Nisqually. She took this course with the goal of connecting more with her ancestry. “I think this experience will help me understand our elders a little more,” she said. “It’s more meaningful to me to know that these teachings were passed on from generations.”
Lushootseed was once the predominant language for large parts of Western Washington. Assimilation programs run by U.S. state and national governments pushed the language to the brink of extinction. “Some of those sounds that make our language unique are being lost,” said McCloud. “Those are the sounds my ancestors made. I really took that to heart.”
The lessons learned at the LLI go beyond the classroom. McCloud’s family is eager for her to complete the program. “They want me to teach them,” she said.
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org