We are learning language; We are learning Paiute

maqlaqs s?ayooga hemkanks neme natuniduuidu

waq lis ?i nanookins or  ha?o me.

These are two different phrases from three different languages, and both phrases say “How are you all” in Klamath/Modoc and Northern Paiute, respectively. The students who have studied in the 2022-2023 Cultural Language Sounds Program or are currently enrolled in the Klamath Tribes Cultural Language Sounds Program learn these phrases in their first language classes.

The Klamath Tribes Language Department has created a Zoom app Language Training program. The Klamath and Modoc Languages (?ewksiknii coy moattakknii) have been taught on Monday evenings. The Northern Paiute (neme) classes are taught on Wednesday nights. The students are adults to 4th-grade children. Students are from throughout Oregon and Washington state. A couple of returning students help the new 2023-2024 students with pronunciation and all students lend their study tips to each other. The majority of the students are enrolled Klamath Tribal members, and a couple are tribal spouses or tribal descendants.

The focus of the Klamath Tribes Cultural Language Sounds Program is to teach the phonetic sounds of the tribal alphabet. The goals of the Program are to empower students with cultural pronunciation and teach vocabulary and sentences in the tribal languages. Klamath and Modoc are very similar; however, Northern Paiute is very different. This year, we have grown the Northern Paiute Language Class from 4 students to 6 students. The Klamath and Modoc class has 14 regular students.

The Klamath, Modoc, and Northern Paiute Languages are all three considered endangered languages. There are no known fluent speakers of the three languages within the Klamath Tribes. It is with the help of the University of Oregon Language Department that the languages have materials in the form of booklets and audio materials, which were developed in the 1990s, we can teach the sounds of these languages. The Klamath Tribes have been working on teaching vocabulary for 34 years.

The hopes in 2024 are centered on these trainings to help build fluency in teaching sentences as part of everyday communication, with the help of dedicated Tribal Members of the Klamath Tribes. These are a few samples of how students are using the language after they are trained. A couple of graduated students of the 2023-2024 Cultural Sounds Class, Syd and Rachael, submitted a translation of “I love you,” and the sentence was written as “stint mis ni” in the Klamath/Modoc language, and it was an accurate communication in both spelling and sentence structure.

Two children in the 2023-2024 Northern Paiute class, Blue and Alayna, who both happen to be in the 4th grade and live in separate towns, both went to their respective schools and introduced themselves in Northern Paiute to their fellow students during a class event. A wife and her husband, Ruth and Brian, are taking the Klamath and Modoc class together, and they work to incorporate their words in everyday sentences at home and send texts in Klamath/Modoc. One student, Josh, who is an instructor, uses some of the Klamath words in his instruction in archery. A graduate student, Rowena, teaches her customers words in the Klamath/Modoc language and also helps tribal members with vocabulary or pronunciation when she comes across them through her vending travels.  

There are Klamath Tribes employees who are using the language while at work. One non-tribal employee, Michelle, greeted the Tribal Council in the Klamath and Modoc Languages during a Tribal Council Meeting. Two employees at Klamath Tribal Health and Family Services, Tammy and Amanda, also use the tribal language by having messages say a greeting in Klamath/Modoc on their voice messages. Ron, a Transit Department employee, uses the Klamath and Modoc words to say good morning to co-workers. He also says the standard Klamath/Modoc greeting to co-workers.

Students have shared how they feel empowered, more culturally connected, and proud of themselves to learn how to introduce themselves in their native language. Tammy and Amanda reported that Tribal members respond to them positively in the Klamath/Modoc language, or they have discussions about language by having a greeting in the tribal language on their voice messages.

The Klamath Tribes Language Department staff are working to teach language to all employees whenever they get the opportunity.

The hope is that all language students can continue communicating as they also learn the basic grammar of the languages and how to write sentences. The students are encouraged to teach what they know to family and friends. The writing of the language is a newer practice, as the language was studied in 1890 by Samuel A. Gatschet, a linguist from the US Government sent out to study Tribes in the West, and in the 1950s to 1960s by MAR Barker, UC Berkley Linguist. The languages now use the letter symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to get as close as possible to cultural sounds for the words of the languages.

The Klamath Tribes Language staff are working to create more video media to share on their web page at www.klamathtribes.org and on the Klamath Tribes YouTube Channel.  The most recent videos are for the Winter Words and Holiday Season; these can be seen on the language page of the Klamath Tribes website. The goal is to get more language information to our Tribal people so they can review and use the words in their daily communication.

You can contact the Language Department at [email protected] with questions or contact the staff at (541) 783-2291.

Administrative Assistant           Ms. Lahoma Schonchin                                                ext. 293

Department Director                 Ms. GeorGene Nelson (Klamath/Modoc/Paiute Instructor)  ext. 291

Data Entry Specialist                Ms. Sailee Shadley

Language Instructor                  Mr. Steve Weiser (Northern Paiute)                               ext. 295

            waq lis ?i nanookins or  ha?o me.

Georgene Nelson in the Klamath Tribes Language Department Director.