In this blog post, Sky Hopinka tells about his experiences so far with the Chinuk Wawa group at Portland State University.
For the past eight weeks now, the Chinuk Wawa language group has been meeting two nights a week at the Native American Student and Community Center (NASCC) on the Portland State University campus here in Oregon. The NASCC has been kind enough to donate space for us to have this class so many thanks to the NASCC Specialist Rachel Cushman (Chinook Nation) and everyone else at the Native Center for their support.
This language class isn’t run by any department, student group, or governing body, and for the time being we’d like to keep it that way. BUT, we welcome and appreciate any and all support. To have the driving force behind this group be students and community members who are self motivated and have a sincere desire to save languages and build communities is essential in keeping the language living at this location. Having the support from the NASCC and the Native community is amazing, and the support from Native American Studies is great in giving students the academic ability, through internship and independent study credits, to pursue this unconventional, and somewhat underground, approach to language revitalization. And Where Are Your Keys? is providentially unconventional.
Getting this language class going has been quite the experience. For the past three terms I’ve been able to get internship and independent study credits through Native American Studies (now Indigenous Nations Studies) to learn Chinuk Wawa to meet my Foreign Language requirement and intern with Evan and “Where Are Your Keys?” Now this term we are trying to help other students do the same.
WAYK has three new interns this quarter, Stevie Lemke (Cherokee), Taija Revels (Tlingit), and Jordan Mercier (Grand Ronde) who are all seniors. They have been learning the language and learning WAYK since we began in the beginning of October and have really been crucial in keeping the momentum of the CW class going strong thus far. None of them are interning for credits this quarter, which is definitely a testament to their desire to support this class and the language. Also, we are actively looking for freshman, sophomores, and juniors to take the reigns over for the next school year and take advantage of the opportunity to meet the B.A. foreign language requirement with an indigenous language.
Now to talk a bit about the class itself…it’s been both challenging and daunting while being exciting and invigorating. I have not yet not looked forward to a class night and I can honestly say I don’t see that happening. We’ve had about 15-17 people come through the class with about 8 regulars for the Tuesday class and another 8 or so on the Friday class. Seeing this many people who consistently attend is wonderful. The main points that are challenging to me and the other interns is finding ways to organize and structure the night to account for the ever varying and fluctuating levels of fluency that the students are at. Every class is different and we are always looking for ways to keep everyone engaged and progressing in the language and WAYK. Listening to the WAYK podcasts with Dustin debriefing his language classes has definitely been helpful in figuring out how to navigate similar issues that have emerged.
We’ve begun using the Plus/Delta technique to close our class each night and recap what we’ve covered. Giving the students that come a voice in this developing community is necessary and the feedback we’ve received has been indispensible in maintaining and helping this language group grow.
I’d also like to add that it has been great to have fluent Chinuk speakers in the Portland area come to our class and support the new speakers with their presence and their knowledge of the language. In addition to the Chinuk night at PSU, there is also a class at Portland Community College and the Grand Ronde Tribal Office so basically, there are at least four Chinuk gatherings going on somewhere in Portland and given week.
We will keep this gathering going throughout the school year, with the times changing to accommodate student’s schedules, and we’ll probably keep going through the winter break, too. We also might have some reflections from the other interns in the group on this blog, so keep a look out for those.