-- Students gaze attentively at Loretta Selam-White as she motions
her hand away from her body in a gesture that translates "Go
my son" in the Yakama language.
Selam-White in a large circle, the students follow her lead, listening
to the instructions on how to sign.
my son," she says, beginning the first verse of the song again.
"It should be an inside hand -- the back of your hand should
be facing you. "Go my son and earn your feather," Selam-White
says, as the 26 students follow her every move further into the
don't want your feather here because you don't wear your feather
here," she reminds them while pointing to the side of her head.
"You want your feather to stand tall back here," she says,
holding up two fingers at the crown of her head.
takes the students through it again before going to the next verse.
your people proud of you," she says, turning her body to the
right with arm extended as if she was pointing to a group of people.
replicate every move as the song plays on a tape recorder.
special visit adds another cultural piece to Rosemary Miller's class
at Toppenish Middle School, where students in grades four through
eight are learning the Yakama language.
a healing; it's a soothing that they can drift into," says
Selam-White, who has taught Yakama sign language for more than 15
years. "They'll be so proud when they're performing it."
Cassandra Wesley, whose signing lessons began at home when she was
10, says the class is a place where she feels comfortable.
I feel pretty strong about this," she says. "I'm going
to try and encourage my little nephews and cousins" to get
involved in the class.
is integral to the Yakama language, she says, noting that it's still
used by some in ceremonies where talking is forbidden.
signing has become more of a cultural performance.
the smiles on those old people's faces; it just touches the elders'
hearts," says Selam-White.
language class, which incorporates other aspects of Yakama culture,
is open to middle school students and meets every Tuesday and Thursday.
Its aim is to keep the Yakama language and culture alive.
is a lot of interest," Miller says. "It's neat to open
it (to non-Indians), because they are excited about our culture."
are many dialects of the Yakama language, because the Yakamas are
a confederation of 14 tribes, and Miller says she tries to make
it all available to students.
just encourage them to learn as much as they can and I think that's
how our language is going to be saved," says Miller, who has
taught with the Toppenish School District for 16 years and recently
began teaching the Yakama language.
trying to pull in as many elders as we can to come in and teach