Several years ago I taught the Salish language at Medicine Wheel Academy. It was quite an irony considering that I hardly knew the langauge myself. Sometimes I would literally call my grandmother the night before a lesson to confirm that I had the words correct. Normally, I would never agree to such a dubious pedagogy, but our tribe has fewer than 25 people who learned the language as children. The crisis of imminent language destruction moved me to extreme measures.
In spite of daily cram sessions on the phone, I discovered that teaching the language helped me to learn for myself. Some of those early phrases cemented themselves into my heart and mind forever.
During that same time, my good friend Merle Andrew sometimes collaborated with language lessons. I cherished the time we spent together in my classroom. He had a such a gentle, accepting way of teaching the students. I felt myself lifted up as well. One day, he arrived in my classroom and wrote <qe ul t sqelixw> (see above) in large block letters across my white board. "What's that?" I quizzed.
He stood just a little taller and pronounced the words in Salish as a declaration of pride. Then he paused and repeated the words in English, "We are all Indian people."
Those words remained on my board for the rest of the semester. When they finally began to dim, I printed them onto a large banner that I kept as a reminder of our identity. As I see the sunshine today and feel the goodness of life, I remember Merle's powerful words that day and give thanks.