Sunday, February 26, 2012


A while back, a friend told me that he appreciates my blog posts regarding the Spokane Language and local history, but he said that he misses seeing my photography. Things have been pretty busy, but I do have a few pictures from a few weeks ago that may suffice.

Near the end of January, we experienced a storm that left Stevens County covered in a solid sheet of ice, (I was visiting friends in that part of the world). In fact, the highway was so slick that I spun out and drove into a ditch, and I was only driving five miles per hour! A drive that normally took an hour, lasted more than five.

In the photograph above, the sunset leaves a shimmering reflection over the ice.

A layer of ice formed over everything, including the windows of my car.

But once the clouds and fog cleared away, the sunset was magnificent.

As the sun slipped below the horizon, only a sliver of red light remained.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Dakota sang for Glenda's voice recital yesterday evening. Many thanks to Marsha Schlangen for recording the accompaniment.

McKenna and Whitney

McKenna and Whitney sang for Glenda's voice recital yesterday.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Creator

During the late 1800s, Father Joseph Griva translated several Catholic prayers and catechisms into the Kalispel Language. As I have mentioned before, I appreciate these translations because they provide examples of complex sentence structure in Salish. These books have greatly deepened my understanding of the language.

In this example, Father Griva wrote:

Kuemt lu gol shei lu kolinzuten z-koltz lu skusees lu tel sch-chemaskat ks chinshitems lu skeligu ie l stoligu. Lu skusees kolinzuten shei lu Jesu kri. Jesus shei unegu kolinzuten. Jesus shei negu skeligu. Jesus potu it shei kolinzuten u skeligu.

The same text in the IPA format:

kʷen't łuʔ x̣ʷl šey' łuʔ k'ʷul'ncutn ckʷulsc łuʔ sqʷseʔs łuʔ tl' sččmasq't qs čnšitms łuʔ sqelixʷ y'e l' stulixʷ. łuʔ sqʷseʔs k'ʷul'ncutn šey' łuʔ yesukli. yesu šey' unexʷ k'ʷul'ncutn. yesu šey' nexʷ sqelixʷ. yesu puti t šey' k'ʷul'ncutn u sqelixʷ.

My translation back into English:

Then for that (reason), the Creator sent his son to us from the sky to help the Indians (people) here on the earth. The Creator's son is indeed Jesus Christ. Jesus is truly the Creator. Jesus is also Indian (human). Jesus is still (continually) Creator and Indian (human). 


Translation is never an exact science.

Without question, the priests intended to say that Jesus is human; however, in our language, the word for human (sqelixʷ) is also the word we reserve specifically for ourselves as Indian people. In fact, after white people began arriving in great numbers, a division in the language occurred. Our ancestors retained the original human designation for Indian people (sqelixʷ) and assigned a different term for white people (suyepi). Nowadays, sqelixʷ and Indian are nearly synonymous.

Perhaps ironically, the priests declared in their own catechism that Jesus is Indian. This makes me wonder how our elders would have perceived this teaching. In my imagination, I picture them smiling and nodding in agreement, but in the back of their minds, they may have said to themselves, "Of course the Creator is Indian. We knew that all along."

And if the Creator is Indian, then we will relate to him as we always have, with our own ceremonies, prayers, and songs.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

łu tel kaimintis kolinzuten

More than 100 years ago, the Jesuit missionaries brought Christianity to the Salish-speaking peoples of the Inland Northwest, and as I've mentioned before, the main branch of my family adopted Catholicism as far back as the 1840s. It's a complex and confusing history. On the one hand, the early Jesuit fathers mastered the Salish languages to an amazing degree of fluency. They even published books in the language! But a generation later, Catholic schools were punishing Indian children for speaking anything other than English. What a bizarre irony of history! They meticulously documented the language, only to later encourage its eradication.

The contradiction is unfathomable, but at the end of the day, I really am grateful that the priests wrote about their experience of the Salish language. More than a century later, their writings have both supported and deepened my own learning process.

In 1879, the Missionaries of the Society of Jesus published a compilation of Bible stories written in the Kalispel Language: łu tel kaimintis kolinzuten (From the Writings of the Creator). To my knowledge, they never attempted a complete translation of the Bible into any interior Salish language, but kaimintis kolinzuten is perhaps the most complete Biblical text ever written in a local dialect. It includes all the major stories of the Old Testament, along with a thorough summary of the four Gospels.

Of course, the priests did not have the benefit of our current writing system, sometimes known as the American Phonetic Alphabet or the International Phonetic Alphabet. They invented their own system of writing based upon a simplified version of the Roman letters. Their writing was difficult for me to understand at first, but once I learned a few basic substitutions, I found that it was relatively easy to decipher.

For example, the priests used the letter 'g' to indicate most of the 'x' or 'xʷ' sounds. They also used the letter 'z' to represent the 'c' or the glottalized 'c'.

The following is a sample of the text, followed by a transcription in the current writing system and a tentative translation into English:

T-KOLINZUTEN kólis łu s'chchmáskat, u łu stóligu. U łu stóligu i choólegu ... łu lesshii̓ti sgalgált, zúti: Kskol'li łu spaáka, u kolil łu spaáka ...

t k'ʷul'ncutn k'ʷul'is łuʔ sččmasq't, u łuʔ stulixʷ. u łuʔ stulixʷ i č'uw'leʔxʷ ... łuʔ l' hecšʔiti sx̣lx̣alt, cuti: qs k'ʷul'l'i łuʔ sp̓aʔaq, u k'ʷul'l' łuʔ sp'aʔaq ...

The Creator made the sky and the earth. And the earth was a deserted place ... On the first day he said: Let the light be born (made), and the light was born (made) ...

Of course, it is important to note that a person could not really learn to speak the language using only the Jesuit text. The letters are relatively consistent, but the sounds are not precise. Having said that, the text provides a valuable resource to anyone who already has a solid understanding of the modern writing system. With a few substitutions, I have been able to read and understand the writing and thereby answer a few long-held questions about grammar and sentence structure. And since the Spokane Language is so similar to the Kalispel, these books provide crucial insights into my own understanding of Salish.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Broadway Night

Dakota sang an amazing rendition of They Live In You (from the Lion King) at Mead High School's Broadway Night. It was a brilliant, inspirational performance - with goose bumps and all. As always, my son makes me proud.


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