NW tribes strive to save disappearing languages

EUGENE, Ore. - Virginia Beavert grew up in a little village just down the road from Yakima, Wash.

Beavert did not go to government school. However, the Yakama native did learned to speak several different languages while growing up.

"My first language was Nez Perce," Beavert said. "My father was from Umatilla, and I learned his language. My mother spoke Yakama, so I learned that, too."

But now some of those languages she's learned have disappeared altogether.

"Klickitat is no longer spoken," Beavert said. "I can read the language, but I'm the only one."

According to the Northwest Indian Language Institute (NILI), only 5 out of the 26 original Native American languages in Oregon are still spoken.

The languages first started dwindling in the 1800s.

"With boarding schools, children were taken from their families and taken away to schools and forced to speak English," said Janne Underriner, Director at the Northwest Indian Language Institute.

But through NILI, instructors are teaching the Sahaptin langauge, a dialect of the Yakama nation.

The course is offered through the University of Oregon.

Instructor Roger Jacob said he is still learning the language himself.

"It wasn't until fairly recently that I realized that I wasn't hearing it as much anymore," Jacob said.

"We'd like to retain our identity, our language and our culture," Beavert said. "I think it's important to preserve that because I see globally people disappearing."

In addition to the University of Oregon college courses, the institute also provides curriculum for first grade immersion and after school programs for children in the area.