Klallam is Going on the Road Signs

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe wanted to de-institutionalize the learning of their language and create opportunities to learn and speak Klallam in a natural community setting outside of the classroom.  Over the years Klallam has been taught to students of all ages from Early Head Start through college level. 

These students gain the ability to read, write, and speak Klallam in school, but do not use it in their daily lives at home or in the tribal community. After hosting a community meeting, speaking with the tribal council, and conferring among the language advisory board the “Klallam Everywhere” project was born.

The goal is to have Klallam accessible in written and spoken form everywhere on the reservation. From road signs, to smartphone applications, community immersion craft nights, and even webinars for long-distance learning, this project aims to include it all. Project staff put a great deal of thought and consideration into making the development and implementation of all these tools their focus. They used information gathered from the community and council meetings to determine what activities members would eagerly participate in. This list was then compared to what each project staff member was passionate about and had the skillset for.

Project activities include:

  • students helping to put up new road signs
  • community members attending Klallam immersion style crafting/cooking classes
  • staff members presenting the idea of Klallam preference in hiring policy on the reservation

The project has some specific goals, such as increasing fluency in 25 people and giving the community tools to increase usage. However, it also focuses on making the language fun and useful. Participating in installing new road signs gave youth a sense of ownership. Digital tools take Klallam out of the classroom and ensure it will last for generations to come. Participants may begin painting murals with Klallam words throughout the community.

The project has seen progress. The welcome and announcements at the 2017 community Christmas party were spoken in Klallam. Youths involved with the project now feel as if they have knowledge to share and are contributing to their community through their activities.

Project staff suggested that other communities interested in creating a similar project should listen to what people want and be sure the staff are passionate about the project. Wendy Sampson, the project’s grant manager and substitute language instructor explained, “Unless both parties are equally determined and involved, even a seemingly perfect project will fail.”

“Klallam Everywhere” is already planning ahead by seeking additional grant funding and donations for when their ANA funding ends in 2019. Project staff also continue to expand their language activities and instruction offerings. The  future of the Klallam language looks bright.

January 23, 2018
Last Reviewed: January 29, 2018