Bold Women: Janine Pease & Aspen Decker, revitalizing Native languages
[A woman speaking Apsaalooke.]
That’s Janine Pease speaking her language Apsaalooke, or Crow. Janine, born 1949, had a luminous career in native higher education, but now her passion is Crow-language revitalization. Of about 12,000 enrolled Crow tribal members, 4,600 speak Crow, not all fluently.
In the Flathead, Aspen Decker, born 1992, also works to save language. Of about 7,000 Confederated Salish and Kootenai people, 14 speak Salish fluently. “It’s an emergency. This is very urgent business.” says Janine, explaining language loss is devastating since culture and language go together. The women and their colleagues use immersion, curricula, and technology to preserve their languages.
At age 13, Aspen decided to attend Salish immersion school AND to talk only Salish with her future children. Now, she has four. Every year, they visit cultural sites Aspen’s parents took her to. “I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job of remembering all of these different sites . . . my husband likes to call me the Salish GPS, because I’m like, it’s around this bend, and over here…. It’s such a good feeling to know that they’re always gonna have this knowledge. Their identity is strong and they’re gonna continue on. Everything we do in our Selis seasonal round, they’re gonna know the language that goes with it…”
Janine Pease echoes Aspen Decker: “Our language, we want to see it move with our children, with our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren. To be a vehicle for all the ways that we have lived all these millennia.”
[Aspen speaks in Salish, then translates:] “That is all. Thank you all.”