Salish School community remembers elder who influenced the school

Samtica 2
Courtesy of Salish School of Spokane

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Salish School of Spokane community sustained a great loss last month when Tribal elder Samtica passed away on May 21, who remembered her as a hard worker who overcame hardship and dedicated herself to preserving Salish language and culture.

“She gave us so much, she gave us all she had. Her language and culture,” said LaRae Wiley, co-founder of Salish School of Spokane. “I mean, a lot of anything that we know about our culture and our language is because of her. Because so many of our families in town are disconnected from teachers and elders who can help us learn these traditions.”

Wiley described Samtica as a workhorse who worked tirelessly when it came to preserving the Salish language. She added that the curriculum that she and her husband, Chris Parkin, developed for the school would not have happened without her.

“She was the kind of person who was open and willing to look at new ideas or approaches of doing things, if she thought that it would help the language survive,” Wiley said, a characteristic she and Parkin found during their language journey to be unusual in most people.

However, there is more to the elder’s story than her work with the school.

Parkin, principal of Salish School, said she had endured untold hardship throughout her life. Samtica was a survivor of the St. Mary’s Mission boarding school in Omak, WA.

As child, she and other children had to eat maggoty oatmeal and very poor quality food, while the nuns got to eat well. Not only that, she had to work all the time and serve everyone while at the school. She also faced racial slurs and other insults while attending public schools.

After leaving the residential school, Parkin said Samtica struggled with alcoholism and rising out of poverty from the experiences of genocide. Despite the struggle, she got herself out of it, received treatment when she was in her 50s and learned how to read and write Salish.

“From the moment she recovered from all that brutality, she dedicated herself to preserving language and culture, to being there for her kids and grandkids, when maybe other times times she wasn’t able,” Parkin said.

Parkin added that she was a genius, but that genius had been pummeled by genocide and colonialism and hidden from the world. He said it was amazing she was able to recover from all that, let her genius shine and engage in language revitalization.

At her funeral, Parkin said attendees described her as kind, generous, hardworking and funny. Despite everything she had gone through with the residential school and poverty, he added that she was still all of those things attendees described her as.

“Her love, kindness and patience is really her legacy to us,” Wiley said. “Not the curriculum, not the language, but the way she was as a person. Just a kind, loving, patient teacher.”

Whereas most people knew her as a teacher, her oldest grandson described her as a “kickbutt grandma,” because she was a formidable person who took care of herself, her kids and grandkids.

Not only did her work influence Salish School, but her work had an impact elsewhere, including the Kalispel Language Program, the Spokane Language House and other tribal programs.

Barry “Sulustu” Moses, executive director of Spokane Language House, said at Samtica’s funeral that she gave them all hope and made them believe they can save their languages and hold on to their traditional ways.

“One person can have a huge effect on the world. She changed the language effort,” Wiley said. “Now we’re working with some folks out of Canada, creating a curriculum in the Yukon territory.”

Tribes and programs the Salish School is working on curriculum with include the Syilx Language House, Children of the Taku Society, Stz’uminus First Nation, Spi7uy Squqluts Language and Culture Society, Samish Indian Nation, Kalispel Tribe, and others. These tribes and programs span from British Columbia to Montana.