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Salish school celebrates 20 years of 'happy family'

Courtesy Nkwusm Salish School

The Nk̓͏ʷusm Salish Language School in Arlee is celebrating its 20th year of teaching kids about their culture.

Nk̓͏ʷusm in Salish translates to family. And for 20 years, Stephan Small Salmon says that’s what he’s been building at the school.

“Happy family, that’s why we call it Nk̓͏ʷusm," he said "We’re all together, you know, we’re one family.”

The private school teaches kids Salish in the pre-K through eighth grade program by immersing students in the language. The instructors there say the school is one way the Salish people are holding onto their culture.

Small Salmon started working at the school about a year after it opened when there was a teacher for each of the three students. Now, there are more than 40 students learning the language and traditional practices like drumming, drying meat and fixing moccasins.

“To me, it’s great. It really feels great," Small Salmon said. "I want to accomplish something.

"In my heart, you know, it’s just not the language, it’s not just anything — it’s the love for our children."

Echo Brown has worked at the school for six years and says it also teaches students to be confident by practicing public speaking.

“Along with the language, we’re teaching them to be proud and have a voice and stand up in their community and be leaders," Brown said. "I totally see that throughout our students here at the school.”

That’s something that Nicole Perry hung onto when she was a student at the school. Now she teaches preschool there.

“For me personally, I feel like it just really helped me understand who I am," she said.

They all say keeping the language alive is important to keep the Salish culture alive, and aside from the school, there’s only a few elders and teachers who can do that.

Copyright 2022 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Freddy Monares
Freddy Monares is a reporter and Morning Edition host at Montana Public Radio. He previously worked for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, covered the 2017 Legislature for UM Legislative News Service and interned with the station as a student. He graduated from the University of Montana School of Journalism in 2017.