The Lushootseed Language Department: Promoting a living culture | Tulalip Tribes

For the Tulalip Tribes, our language, Lushootseed (dxʷləšucid), is a vital part of our spiritual and cultural lifeways.

The Lushootseed language is a variation of Coastal Salish, a language that is spoken by several tribes throughout the modern-day northwest United States and British Columbia. The dialect we speak in Tulalip is of the “northern” variety, though it exhibits features of southern Lushootseed as well.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, our language was nearly forgotten. Tribal children were placed in boarding schools and forbidden to speak their native language and other federal programs were put in place in an attempt to assimilate natives into mainstream culture. Today, we are squarely focused on making sure that our language is not only preserved but celebrated. For the past few decades, we have been using our resources to bring Lushootseed to the young people of our region.

Our Lushootseed Language program provides language learning opportunities to a variety of ages and skill levels, helping us to better understand our ancestral teachings and become more in-tune with our heritage. This understanding guides our Language department’s vision that every tribal home, workplace, gathering and schoolroom for tribal children be a Lushootseed-rich environment. “Learning the language gives you more of a connection to your people and to other natives as well,” Michelle Balagot, Department Manager of the Lushootseed Language Department said, “we try to set a good example.”

Since 1993, the tribes have been doing that in a multitude of ways. The language department is 15 staff members strong and has plans to add another ten teachers in the next 3 years. We teach Lushootseed to a wide swath of young people, from the very young up into college-age, and have worked hard to build curriculums and classroom materials so we can reach the highest possible number of students. We use full immersion in combination with games and songs for the younger kids and comprehension and vocabulary studies for the older students. High school students can even take Lushootseed classes that satisfy the language course requirements needed for graduation. “The kids are like sponges,” Michelle said, “they soak everything up!”

One way to get young people excited about learning Lushootseed is through the use of technology. We have two android apps— one for the alphabet and one for common phrases— that can be explored on either a tablet or phone. High school-aged youth can even send text messages using a Lushootseed keyboard.

Preserving a living culture means considering the teachings and traditions of our ancestors every day. These ideas and understandings are something we are all born with, an innate part of who we are as a people. As we continue to grow and thrive, we will always dedicate ourselves to the betterment of the next generations, and the Lushootseed language program will be a part of that bridge to the future.