Native languages making a comeback in Warm Springs

Tribal language classes offered at K-8 Academy

Students learn native languages

WARM SPRINGS, Ore. - Dying languages are being brought back to life in Warm Springs. 

The three languages of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Numu, Kiksht and Ichishkiin, have been in danger of being lost with the passage of time and native speakers. 

“I think that it’s because we’re fully immersed in English today,” Jefferson Greene said Thursday. “It’s everywhere. It’s on TV, the radio, cellphone apps are all in English. Other countries around the world are learning English. But through that, we’re losing so much information about the world itself -- our seasons, our people, our spirituality, our energy.”

Now at Warm Spring K-8 Academy, for the first time in two decades, tribal languages can be a part of a student’s school day. They've been offered as part of a before-school class, but now any student can choose to study them as an elective. 

“Our hope is that students will be able to carry on this knowledge and then pass it on to their children and grandchildren as well,” said Chris Wyland the assistant principal. 

Of the roughly 700 students at the school, about 120 of them are in the language classes. 

Radine Johnson teaches Kiksht. Her grandmother died in 2012 and was the last fluent speaker. Johnson considers herself semi-fluent, and says her teachers drilled a mission into her.

“They never want their language to go silent,” she said. “They told us many times ,over and over, to teach the children and the younger generations their language, and never let it die out.”

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