Get in touch with Oregon’s roots by learning its native tongues.
words BEN MCPHERSON FICKLIN
art IMOGEN BANKS
Sahaptin is a language. For more than 10,000 years the Yakama, Wanapum, Umatilla, Walla Walla, Palus, Cayuse, and Nez Perce tribes have spoken Sahaptin in what is now the state of Oregon. Words like iwakt (dream) or shwat’ash (cloud) had meaning along the Columbia River and its tributaries, across the Cascade Range, out to the coast, north into Washington, and as far east as Idaho. Now, after European invaders brutally killed and forcibly assimilated Natives, Sahaptin speakers number around 200.
Students of the University of Oregon have a unique opportunity to support these cultures and gain insight into Native Oregon by enrolling in the Sahaptin language program. Sahaptin has been offered at the UO since 1997 by the Northwest Indian Language Institute (NILI) and the University’s Yamada Language Program.
NILI combines culture with language in their mission statement: Through teaching Native languages, they attempt to support native community and culture. Language creates culture as much as culture creates language, and to learn a language from somebody who is unfamiliar with the culture is pointless.
Roger Jacob, the Sahaptin teacher at the UO is a product of a Native Oregon culture. Jacob grew up on the Yakima Indian Reservation, in the Washington Cascades, and has studied and received degrees from nine different universities. In 2010 he graduated from the UO with a Master’s Degree in teaching Native language.
The cultures that speak Sahaptin are adamantly striving to keep their language from dying. By enrolling in the Sahaptin program, anyone can support these cultures and gain a perspective of Oregon that far predates the United States. Americans need to recognize the genocide that Natives have been put through. This racist destruction has erased knowledge of Oregon that had existed for thousands of years. It’s time to cherish Native culture and language.