Alina, Stevie, and Melissa enjoy a serious teaching moment at Portland State University.

The best part of summer has to be no school and homework to get in the way of me focusing on Hunting Navajo and gaining fluency in Chinuk Wawa. My journey and first interactions with Where are your keys?, occurred at Portland State University. I was a transfer student from Utah State University the term before. Every day I truly second guessed my decision to transfer to PSU. I went from a school I had always known with friends and family, to a new school where it was grey skies ( the sun didn’t exist) , not a single person knew me , I had just changed my major (again),  and in every way possible was drastically different from Utah and New Mexico where I grew up.

For my new major I just so happened to register for a Native Language Revitalization class that fulfilled my requirement for graduation. I actually planned on dropping the class if I didn’t like it after the first week because 1. I had no idea what language revitalization was and 2. The brief description was boring and I couldn’t fathom why and how was it even important or relevant to my life.  Within the first week of the term one of the requirements for the class was to attend a language class, so I decided to attend the Chinuk Wawa classes everyone was raving about. Having never spoken a second language, learning languages was extremely new. I will always remember walking into the class, immediately greeted by everyone and invited to join a bucket taught by Melissa, the kindness, warmth, passion, knowledge, and techniques I experienced at Chinuk Wawa made learning so fun . That first day when I struggled or got frustrated I learned the technique, “Don’t think don’t suffer” just relax and head over to “the meadow” (where I might add there was free food, Yaay!:D).  The concept of using sign language as a bridge language was so intriguing and made absolute sense, especially when I was given the mouth dropping news, I would be totally immersed in the language.

The next few weeks to come were probably the most life altering and has changed my life forever.  This was when I realized 1. What language revitalization was. Sitting there starring out onto the class, looking at everyone teaching and just having fun.  I Realized I was a part of it and I could see all of us wrapped and surrounded fully immersed in Chinuk Wawa, it was put into action changing our community. 2. It was everything but BORING and yes it was relevant to my life and others. When I was told I could use it to learn my own language the Navajo Language, I can’t lie, I WAS SOLD!:D lol. I could learn my language that I had only dreamed of speaking. A language so close to me while simultaneously so far away because I didn’t’ speak or understand.

I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason.  I know I was supposed to transfer to Portland State University that I was destined to register for that one Native language revitalization class where 3, Where are you Keys? Interns were my classmates.  I was meant to find my passion for teaching and learning languages.  I need to speak Navajo, no longer will it be something I merely wish for. I can’t wait for all my new Navajo experiences and Chinuk adventures because I saw the Native center at PSU change, due to the gathering spaces being filled with students/friends speaking Chinuk Wawa. I have been given the opportunity to go to California for workshops and see how it has changed and impacted lives of communities with only a few fluent speakers. Where are you keys?, changes lives and communities, it changed mine.

Written by Evan Gardner

1 Comment

Paul Cason

How fascinating, congratulations I know your going to be great in hunting Navajo now, ayye huh. Keep WAYK’ing where ever you go sister .

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