- Joshua Brown has studied such arcane subjects as social linguistics
and bilingual education but still isn't fluent in Salish, the
native tongue of his Indian tribe.
are most Salish Indians on the Flathead Reservation.
as a living language is dying fast, Brown said. Only 70 to 80 people
are fluent out of some 6,000 enrolled members in the entire tribal
confederacy - Pend d'Oreille, Salish and Kootenai. (Salish is by
far the largest of the three tribal groups that comprise the Flathead
aims to revive the language as a living, cultural force with the
help of a two-year, $60,000 "social entrepreneurship"
award from a foundation in New York City.
Pablo resident, who has a master's degree in public administration
from the University of Montana, is a founder of the Salish language-immersion
school, Nk(w)usm (One Fire) in Arlee. He was recently named one
of the world's Top 10 Emerging Social Entrepreneurs for 2003 by
Echoing Green, a nonprofit group started by the venture-capital
investment firm General Atlantic Partners.
for the fellowship is tough. Brown said he went through a rigorous
written competition against more than 100 other hopefuls, and surprised
himself by making the finals last spring.
New York, he went through grueling days of formal interviews with
the foundation's selection panel, who themselves were social entrepreneurs
recruited from all over the world. From the 25 semifinalists, 10
were chosen to receive the $60,000 grants, Brown said.
was basically like defending your thesis" for a graduate degree,
Brown said of the experience.
then, he's attended Echoing Green workshops in Greenwich, Conn.,
and San Francisco addressing social entrepreneurship skills, including,
he said, the vital "60-second elevator pitch" in which
you explain your program's mission and need to potential donors.
the past 16 years, Echoing Green has invested $21 million in seed
money to more than 370 individuals who the organization defines
as "talented yet unproven social entrepreneurs dedicated to
addressing the root causes of social challenges" and "visionaries
who will develop new solutions to society's most difficult problems
... (and) who will work to close deeply rooted social, economic
and political inequities to ensure equal access and to help all
individuals reach his/her potential."
the grant is a pretty big deal for a low-key, gentle, soft-spoken,
bespectacled 29-year-old from the Flathead Reservation, Brown agreed.
attorney for the Eastern Montana Self-Help Law Project also was
a winner. That project uses technology, volunteer attorneys, paralegals
and lay community members to help people represent themselves in
court in civil proceedings.
started thinking about becoming a social entrepreneur - although
not in those exact terms - several years ago when his friend and
mentor Clarence Woodcock, a beloved Salish elder, editor, linguist
and cultural leader, died. Brown had learned much from Woodcock,
including language skills, spiritual and cultural traditions, while
in high school in St. Ignatius.
Woodcock died, Brown was an undergraduate majoring in environmental
sciences at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo. This field of study
would almost surely get him a good job with the resource-rich Confederated
Salish and Kootenai Tribes when he graduated.
with Woodcock dead, Brown realized that his easy access to a fluent
Salish speaker and cultural leader had been cut off forever.
he died, I realized that I took a lot of things for granted,"
Brown said. So he changed his academic major, his goals and his
outlook on life.
since then, I have studied history, linguistics and education,"
at college, he started thinking about how to revive Salish as a
useful, vital, living tongue among the Salish people on the reservation.
repression of the Indian language by religious and civil authorities
for two generations - now referred to politely as "the boarding
school experience" in tribal cultures throughout the western
United States - had severely eroded the language by the time Brown
was rarely spoken by anyone outside the home, and then usually only
among elders. Brown's parents, for example, spoke little Salish
at home. He remembers learning Salish words and phrases from his
great-grandparents and great uncles.
St. Ignatius High School, he attended Salish classes, but they were
only "enrichment" courses of study, designed to familiarize
students with the local Salish cultural tradition, not language
kind of instruction will never save Salish from extinction, Brown
schools are never going to save the Salish language ... they can't
and should not be expected to do it by themselves," he said.
Salish community should take the lead and possibly partner with
schools and other entities to move away from enrichment programs
only, and discover solutions that will really produce people who
are highly fluent in at least the Salish and English languages."
year, Brown and others sought support from the tribal government
to do just that, starting Nk(w)usm (One Fire) in Arlee for children
ages 2 to 5. There is no requirement that parents or children be
enrolled tribal members, only that parents maintain an active interest
in the school, helping with school repairs, maintenance, fund-raising
and the like, and that the children attend regularly.
tribal government encouraged the venture, providing $170,000 in
funding last year, and $200,000 this year for staff and operations.
The school recruited and hired fluent Salish speakers, mostly older
tribal members, and supplemented them with younger folks, like Brown,
who had academic training and teaching expertise. The school now
has 17 students - seeds for the future of the Salish language, Brown
and others hope.
Echoing Green grant will allow Brown to form a nonprofit group to
expand and elaborate on the mission of the school, working in tandem
with it, he said, to revive Salish as a spoken, used and useful
language and as a tool for cultural revival.
said the formal structure of the nonprofit, tax-exempt Salish Language
Perpetuation Project he will form with the $60,000 grant is a work
in progress. But he foresees a collaboration between a variety of
tribal and nontribal entities and individuals. The tribal government,
especially the CSKT Education Department, is vital to its success,
as is Salish Kootenai College, local public elementary and secondary
schools and UM.
is not too late to revive Salish, he contends.
aboriginal people - the Maori of New Zealand, for example, and the
native cultures of Hawaii - have had success reviving languages
within those societies, Brown said.
is the foundation of society and the fundamental key that connects
generations through time. The Salish Language Perpetuation Project
will ensure that our language and heritage do not become extinct,"
Green warns fellowship recipients that entrepreneurship is fraught
with risk, success is never guaranteed, and there may not be a steady
job at the end of the rainbow. Brown has accepted the risks.
want Salish to be the language of our community, the language of
the heart of the Salish people," he said.