By Hailey Palmer, Puyallup Tribal News
Puyallup Tribal Language Director Amber Hayward has seen the Language Program grow monumentally in the last decade.
From being the only speaker and teacher in the department to having a staff full of speakers, it has been amazing for Hayward to see how far the department has come.
Today, the Language Department’s goals and objectives include creating spaces where only Twulshootseed is spoken.
Hayward said that was difficult at first, but as the department has grown, so has the desire of Tribal members to learn.
“When we first started, people would kind of run away from us because they’re like, ‘They’re talking about language,’ and I knew they just weren’t ready,” Hayward said. “We just stayed consistent and we like to say we build a healthy environment for language to grow, so that takes a long time. It takes a very long time to do that, but we have to be consistent.”
Hayward said staying consistent has allowed the department to see the success that it has.
“It’s everywhere I get to see it,” Hayward said of hearing Twulshootseed spoken. “It’s just amazing to see our kids; they won’t ever have a time where they didn’t hear the language. I didn’t hear the language growing up, so I think we did the job we needed to do − making it healthy and exposing our community to our language.”
The Language Department offers online classes for the Puyallup Tribal community and has a variety of resources on its website.
With recordings of the classes available online, anyone in the community is able to jump in whenever they feel ready.
“We’re always going to be here. We’re at your own pace. We’ve had so many people start, drop out, come back a whole year later and start again,” Hayward said. “This is our community’s language program – it’s not my program. Whatever our people want – that’s what we’re going to do to revitalize the language.”
The Language Department hosted two storytelling nights this past year, marking the first gathering since COVID.
With a new year just around the corner, the department is brainstorming fresh ways for the community to get involved with its services.
“I don’t like to always do the same thing over and over and over,” Hayward said.
Helping come up with some of those new ideas is the Puyallup Tribal community itself.
“It’s letting them be invested in this work,” Hayward said. “It’s really based off our community and what their needs are.”
Thinking about where the department was when it first started to where it is now, Hayward said they’ve built something meant to last.
“When we’re not here – that’s what we’re working for right now,” Hayward said. “The end game is that this is very long-lasting. We’re in for the long game even when we’re long gone.”
More information on the Language Program can be found at puyalluptriballanguage.org. The department can be reached at 253-680-5763, 253-312-9416 or email@example.com.