Thursday, January 19, 2012


ho....y čicntm łuʔ sʔistč y'e n sƛx̣etkʷ. xʷeʔit hec mox̣ʷpmi y'etłx̣ʷa, u xʷeʔit łuʔ sm'ek'ʷt y'e n stulixʷ. yoyot čn lemt x̣ʷl n̓e sqepc, m qe tixʷ t sewłkʷ x̣ʷl qe sqelixʷ sʔiłn... łuʔ sp'eƛm, łuʔ p'ux̣ʷp'ux̣ʷ, łuʔ st'šałq... hecya stem'.

kʷen y'e sč'łq'ʔincut č' čsax̣m łuʔ ntx̣ʷetkʷ.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


y'e kʷiƛ̓t sč'łq'ʔincut tl' int'upyeʔ Leyton Moses, nexʷ łuʔ p'x̣ʷp'x̣ʷuc. Joseph Moses łuʔ m'estm's u Ellen łuʔ tum's. q'ʔintem łuʔ skʷesc t q'ʷaylqs Father Connolly, nexʷ łuʔ snqlixʷskʷesc. ec'x̣ił q'ʔintes łuʔ q'ʷaylqs: Qui-métqu łuʔ Leyton snqlixʷskʷesc. Seésh-shm-ta łuʔ Ellen snqlixʷskʷesc. łuʔ Joseph Moses ƛ̓m epł esel  snqlixʷskʷest (šey' cuti łuʔ q'ʷaylqs): Ch-tóh-see u Pah-ko-tés.

ta hec misten lčen u qeqs q'ʔintem łuʔ skʷesc y'etłx̣ʷa.

Another photograph of my great grandmother Leyton Moses, along with her parents. Joseph Moses was her father and Ellen was her mother. Their names were written by the black robe (priest) Father Connolly, and also their Indian names. This is how the priest wrote: Qui-métqu was Leyton's Indian name. Seésh-shm-ta was Ellen' Indian name. Joseph Moses had two Indian names (according to the priest): Ch-tóh-see and Pah-ko-tés.

I do not know how we would write their names now (in the modern Salish alphabet).


łuʔ in t'upyeʔ Leyton Moses u łuʔ stmčʔelc Nellie Pichette.
My great grandmother Leyton Moses and her daughter Nellie Pichette.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mary Walker

Several days ago, I held in my hand a most extraordinary book - an original hand-written Spokane dictionary compiled by Mary Walker sometime between 1838 and 1848. The book was constructed from several folded sheets of paper that were bound together by a simple black thread. The pages contained a random mix of words written in both ink and pencil, along with an assortment of streaks and household stains.

I was actually surprised they allowed me to handle an original document from the 19th century.

This hand-written dictionary resides in the Northwest Room of the Spokane Public Library. Before I was allowed me to view the book, I had to sign a special agreement that included my driver's license number and other identifying information. With all the paperwork complete, the librarian simply handed me a folder that contained the original book.


Elkanah and Mary Walker lived among the Spokane people from 1838 to 1848. The American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions sponsored the Walkers as missionaries to convert the Spokane to Christianity. After following the Oregon Trail to Walla Walla, they eventually settled in a place called Tshimakain, near present-day Ford, Washington.

The Walkers lived among the Spokane for nine years, but never made a single convert. Their failure to win souls for Christianity perhaps stemmed from their ethnocentric view of religion. The Walkers demanded that the Spokane not only abandon their existing spirituality, but also adopt a European, agrarian lifestyle. How farming became a requirement for salvation, I'll never know. But their diaries also suggest that both Mr. and Mrs. Walker often expressed contempt for Native customs, beliefs, and traditions.

Years ago, I remember reading that Mrs. Walker sometimes scolded the Spokane for what she perceived as sinful behavior - things like practicing Indian medicine or 'stealing' from her garden. Some parts of her dictionary seem to reflect a basic misunderstanding of the culture and a focus on negative behavior. In fact, the initial three words on the cover page are: to steal, to lie, to hide away.

It is easy to see why the mission failed to gain converts.

Despite the apparent ethnocentrism, Mary Walker's dictionary offers some insight into the origins and development of the Spokane Language. For example, the second page contains the Spokane word for the soul: sinhupows. Mrs. Walker created an improvised spelling system, but still the word bears an obvious resemblance to the correct pronunciation: snx̣pew's.

The appearance of this one word inspires an interesting question in my mind. For several years, I have heard the story that the Spokane word for the human soul was a creation of the Catholic missionaries, and yet Mary Walker may have recorded that word as early as 1838, several years before the priests even arrived in the area. My family did not become Catholic until some time between 1842 and 1845. The Protestant and Catholic missions did overlap somewhat, so it is possible that they shared a common vocabulary, but I have to wonder if Calvinist missionaries would accept a Catholic description of the soul.

Another interesting word that she recorded was a word for spirit: Npupowlish's. This word is similar to the word npupewlštn, which has reference to the breath. Once again, this makes me wonder if that was an original Spokane concept of the spirit or a Christian innovation.


I cannot say that Mary Walker's Spokane Dictionary added to my vocabulary - her book was really nothing more than a word list - but it inspires me to see a written account of the Spokane Language from almost 175 years ago.


The Walkers abandoned the mission shortly after the Whitman Massacre in 1847. Some time later, Mrs. Walker composed a poem to remind her children of their birthplace among the Spokane:

Tshimakain! Oh, how fine, fruits and flowers abounding,
And the breeze, through the trees, life and health conferring.
And the rill, near the hill, with its sparkling water
Lowing herds and prancing steed round it used to gather.
And the Sabbath was so quiet and the log house chapel
Where the Indians used to gather in their robes and blankets.
Now it stands, alas forsaken: no one with the Bible.
Comes to teach the tawny skailu (people) of Kai-ko-len-so-tin (God)
Other spots on earth may be to other hearts as dear;
But not to me; the reason why, it was the place that bore me.
1. The correct spelling of people is sqelixʷ.
2. The correct spelling of Creator (God) is k'ʷul'ncutn.
3. The poem is quoted from:

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


This morning I paid a visit to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (the MAC) to lead a student group from an ESL class (English as a Second Language). The students represent a variety of cultures, but the majority have come to the United States from the Himalayan nation of Bhutan.

The Bhutanese students surprised me because of their deep interest in the various exhibits. For example, as we observed several large baskets, one middle-aged woman became somewhat emotional as she explained that many years ago, her father had made a similar basket. Almost every time I have spoken to the Bhutanese students, they remark how similar their culture is to the indigenous people of North America.   

Every item displayed a deep sense of beauty. Every basket, mocassin, or beaded bag reminded me of friends and loved ones who continue to make such things, and while I certainly understand the desire to preserve them, it was difficult for me to see them as simple artifacts. Yes, I appreciate the beauty, but at the same time, I feel sad to know that these items will never be used again.

In the old way, I have heard it said that certain objects sometimes come alive, like a spirit. I wonder then, how these ones feel living always behind a layer of glass.

The lobby features a large mural painted by local artist Ric Gendron. I have to say that I have always loved his work. In my experience, his paintings reflect the soul of Indian people in this region. They evoke something deeply inspired and authentic, and they reflect tradition, while accepting the complexities of culture and history.

Sunday, January 08, 2012


Eighteen years ago today, my father left this world. He would have been 64. Since these anniversaries never seem to leave my heart, I must still have some need to observe his memory and his vision for the world. During the last ten years of his life, he worked hard to promote the traditional ways of our ancestors. He traveled all around the Pacific Northwest and learned from elders in several different Indian communities. He cooked for traditional gatherings and revived many of the old songs.

If he were alive today, I have no doubt that he would be very happy to witness our efforts to re-vitalize the Spokane language.


Just the other day, I was thinking about how Native languages are lost over time. Many of our elders once believed that the Indian ways were a thing of the past, so they taught their children to speak only English. In my family, my father was the first generation to learn English as his first language, meaning that I am only the second generation removed from the world of my Salish-speaking ancestors. His parents and grandparents certainly knew English as a matter of convenience or perhaps necessity, but they spoke Salish first. When I consider the 10,000 year span of history in this region, two generations do not seem like a long time.

English was also my first language, but a remnant of the old language persisted.

A scattering of Salish words punctuate the memory of my childhood. For example, some of my earliest memories revolve around asking my father for permission to do one thing or another, and he would often respond by saying, "xʷuyš!" which means, "Go!"

Other times, we followed a strange ritual around driving the car. Where ever we went, my father always sat behind the wheel, but whoever sat in the front passenger seat had the solemn responsibility to watch for cars on the right side of the vehicle. If we came to an intersection, my father would never look to the right. He only looked to the left, which I suppose he regarded as his special domain. With complete trust in the navigator, he always asked, "How is it?" The navigator would then look to the right and decide if it was safe for the car to enter the intersection. If other cars were approaching, the passenger would say, "Wait," but if the road was clear, he would say, "miš," (This means literally: "It is empty.") Upon hearing that word, my father drove forward onto the highway without pausing or making a second thought. In a way, our safety depended on that one word.

From my childhood, I also remember that my elders sometimes asked, "stem' a spuʔus," which was a way of asking, "How are you?" But it literally means, "What's on your heart?" Other words also survived, like yaya (grandmother), sileʔ (grandfather), suyepi (whiteman), or lemlmtš (thank you), but I have no idea why some persisted into our English-speaking world and why others went dormant. 

A while ago, I was also wondering which of all the Salish words was the first to enter my permanent memory. I reflected on this question for several days, and I finally concluded that the earliest word from my childhood is actually my father's name: etwan. A long time ago, our Salish-speaking elders once created Indianized versions of English names - names like misel for Michael, tapit for David, malian for Mary Anne, and etwan for Edward. Some families continue this practice today.

I have virtually no clear memories of my yaya Minnie (my father's mother), but I can still see her in my mind sitting in a chair with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. I don't remember anything else, except that she called for my father, "etwan, I'm cold. Put some wood in the fire."


On this day, eighteen years after my father's passing, I am somehow comforted to know that his name was the first word I can remember learning in Salish. Like a seed left over from a previous generation, that name is a source of power and the beginning of possibilities yet to come.


(Salish has no capitalization, so these names are written with all lower case letters).

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Whitney's Audition

Whitney also auditioned for CYT Spokane's Oklahoma and did a wonderful job.

Dakota's Audition

Dakota auditioned for CYT Spokane's upcoming production of Oklahoma. He just gets better and better. I am very proud.

Endangered Cultures

A brilliant TED video recommended by my friend Maggie Dale shows the wonder of cultural diversity within the 'ethnosphere,' especially among indigenous cultures. This video highlights what is lost when the forces of industrialzation overwhelm native peoples; language, culture, and a unique understanding of reality.

Thanks Maggie!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The New Year

My elder once told me that the old time Indians looked at the new year like a spirit, and as each new year arrived, they always asked him to bring good things and to not leave the people in a pitifual way. This is my prayer for the new year. I didn't make any grand resolutions beyond my desire to recognize the blessings of being alive with my family and friends.


My family participated in CYT's yearly Encore Encore performance at the Bing Crosby Theater. The kids got to perform select encore numbers from Music Man and Annie, and I got to be King of New York just one more time. After the show, we took a few family photographs on the stage of the theater.

We're looking forward to the upcoming shows of the New Year.


My sister bought a house last year, so this Christmas the family gathered for dinner in her home. We made Italian food, played games, and took the first family photo in several years. What a wonderful time!

Click on the photograph to enlarge.


Christmas and the New Year have already passed, and we take one last breath before diving back into the hectic world of work. But this Christmas season was hectic in its own way, with all the shopping, running around, visiting, and in my case, making home-made gifts.

In particular, my daughter loves Ugly Dolls. I have only ever been able to find them at Boo Radley's in downtown Spokane, along with a hundred other bizarre little items. This year, I decided to make my own monster doll. I suppose it means more when it comes from your own heart and hands.

As expected, my daughter loved this doll more than all the others.

The pattern was my own creation.

The doll was named Skalula, after a Native American monster song from the Okanogan country.


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