By CHRIS BRIDEN
Someone recently asked me why I teach Lushootseed, a nearly extinct language. The reason, in short, is that it makes me feel good.
A longer explanation is this:
The language shouldn’t exist. Governor Stevens tried to eliminate us as a people. He tried to put us on reservations that were so small that we would have starved and died out. Instead, our ancestors stood up and fought.
Chief Leschi did not begin the resistance by shooting, he began by asking for help. His family came to his aid and then other tribes from the North and then people from the East came to fight beside him. They stood side by side and fought for each other, they fought for their children, they fought for us. They fought out of the love they held for one another.
Historians ask why Governor Stevens gave in to Leschi’s demands even though Leschi and his family were either captured or dead. The reason for this is that he wasn’t afraid of Leschi or his family; he was afraid of the Indians who cooperated, who loved and fought for one another. He saw how much we care for each other and he realized he could not win against our love.
When they accepted that they could not kill us physically, they tried to destroy our culture. The most effective way to destroy a culture is to disrupt the transmission of information from parents to children, from ancestors to descendants. The way to accomplish this was by abducting children from their parents and taking them to the boarding schools. What they attempted to do is disrupt the natural progression of information, of love, from parent to child, from ancestors to descendants. But in the end, that failed also. They came very close to succeeding but they failed. They failed because they underestimated the amount of love that we hold for one another.
The fact that the language exists today shows that the love that the ancestors have for us, the descendants, is stronger than any army or government. Lushootseed exists today because there is an unbroken chain, from the Changer to today, of parents whispering to their children in Lushootseed. The language exists today because our ancestors stood up and fought together when they were expected to lay down and die alone.
So every time you speak your native language, even if it’s just a single word, it is an expression of the love that our ancestors have for us. It is the proof that they fought and died for our existence.
Every time you speak a word in our language, even just a single word, it is a weapon against hate, against racism, against colonialism. Lushootseed is a weapon for love, for acceptance and for solidarity.
Chris Briden is a Puyallup Tribal member and Puyallup language teacher. He is the grandson of Reuben Wright, fisherman.