Our Athabaskan Language has many dialects. These dialects vary from region to region and even from village to village. In pre-contact times the area a person hailed from would be recognized by the dialect they spoke in. After our People were brought to the Siletz Reservation there were five major Languages spoken here. The major Language stocks were Athabaskan, Hokan, Penutian, Sahaptin, and Salish. Chinook Jargon became the Language that different speakers used to communicate with as well as English. With the passage of time each successive generation found itself with an ever smaller pool of speakers. When our Tribes were Terminated by the Federal Government in the 1950's, our Tribal Government was disbanded and our lands sold, our people were dispersed far and wide. Our Languages went unspoken except among our Elders. It would take another 20 years and the Restoration of our people to Tribal Status to rekindle any hope of Language Restoration.
There were many works done by linguists to record the Athabaskan Language during the first half of the 20th century and most were recorded in different alphabets. A keyboard friendly format of the Practical Alphabet for our language was developed in 1994 making possible documentation and curriculum development. In the early 1980's the first Athabaskan Language classes began in Siletz. Following a tribal wide assessment beginning in 1996, it was discovered that we have lost more than 90 percent of the ability to speak the native language Athabaskan. The Tribe has made a concentrated effort to address this loss. In 2003 the Tribe made a commitment to the preservation of our traditional arts and language by establishing a permanent position in the Culture Department, Traditional Arts and Language Specialist. Many linguistic archival materials have been used to guide the language teachings at the community language classes, Nuu Wee-ya (Our Words). Soon thereafter, another step was taken in 2005 bringing classes to Siletz Valley School classrooms, taught in partnership with Tribal preservation efforts.
Most recently, in the fall of 2008, the Tribe received a grant from the Administration for Native Americans making possible a combined effort to address the current status of our language, Athabaskan. This grant has resulted in a small staff to develop a formal curriculum in an effort to strengthen the language of our people. With the pilot project site at Siletz Valley School, it is our shared vision that these efforts will ultimately lead to a curriculum that is more largely accessible to all tribal members.
We present these Language Lessons to you in the hope that the Creator will help us to keep these ancient words of ours alive, for this generation and all those yet to come.
Nuu-wvn srxii-xe xuu-srxii-xe hii-chu xuu-srxii-xe hii-chu xaa-ma
(For our children, their children and their children)
Siletz Tribal Language Project
Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians