Virginia Beavert: “So Why Not Speak Your Language?”

In this excerpt, Dr. Virginia Beavert talks about the importance of speaking her Native language. This excerpt was produced for the Museum at Warm Spring’s 2019 Honor Dinner, where Dr. Virginia Beavert received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in the language. Interview filmed by NW Documentary, excerpt produced by Tule Films.

Bio: Virginia Beavert received her Doctorate in Linguistics from the University of Oregon and teaches her native language, Ichishkin. Virginia Beavert, a member of the Yakama Nation, is a highly respected teacher and fluent speaker of her language, Yakama Sahaptin (Ichishkíin Sɨ́nwit)c. She was a key planner of the Yakama exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, and has served on numerous committees and planning councils related to the documentation and preservation of Native languages. ( She grew up learning Nez Perce, and also Klickitat, Umatilla and Yakama dialects of Sahaptin. A respected Yakama elder, she has made invaluable contributions to Confluence at the Sacajawea Park Story Circles project, and the Vancouver Land Bridge.


So why not speak your language? The Chinese speak their own language. The Japanese speak their own language. The Hindus speak their own language. But it seems like English is just overwhelming in this place around the reservations. And they’re getting to the point where it’s easier I guess to use English. But we don’t use that–I think most of us don’t use English-English. We’re speaking more like the way we see things. I see a lot of things a little different from the linguists. And it’s a little hard to explain things to them. And hard for them to understand me. So we come to an agreement but the translation isn’t really exact.

I notice that over in Umatilla there’s one young man, he’s teaching little children. And he doesn’t use English. Everything they do he speaks to them in the native language. But he has early history pictures and gradually they get more modern around the room. So he’s teaching them in chunks. And after awhile they can look at a color book, a modern color book, and they can name the cars and buses, and this one is doing this, this one’s going fast, and this one’s going slow. This one wrecked. And they’ll say it all in that language. I had to do an evaluation there and this little boy sat with me and his teacher says ‘he wants to do the color book for you’. Okay. So he read that and I sat there, I was really amazed.

Related Content