Lushootseed Thriving at AIS - Tami Hohn Hired as Permanent Full-Time Southern Lushootseed Instructor

Submitted by Kai Wise on
Tami Hohn writes the word 'alive' in Southern Lushootseed

As soon as Tami Hohn stepped onto the UW Seattle campus to teach Southern Lushootseed language, there has been a buzz. Hohn joined the Department of American Indian Studies informally in Autumn 2017 by teaching free, drop-in language learning and conversation sessions with her colleague Nancy Jo Bob. By January, the Seattle Times had dropped in and written a story about the weekly gathering. By the following Autumn, 2018, Hohn was teaching a year-long for-credit course in Salish Language. The series, AIS 313, 314, and 315 had been taught only intermittently since the remarkable Vi Hillbert retired from the University in 1988. The class continued to grow and the University took notice, writing a feature story about Hohn’s class as well as her work in language teaching and revitalization around the region. Steadily the class attracted students, both Native and non-Native, as well as campus faculty, staff, and members of the public, and was taught again in 2019 and 2020. These last two years Hohn has also served as the first Native Knowledge In Residence Coordinator for the Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies (CAIIS).

Previous AIS Department Chair, Chris Teuton, was an important early supporter of Hohn’s work and initially organized her invitation to campus. Teuton, who is Cherokee and began learning that language at the University of North Carolina, where he taught before he came to the UW says, “By revitalizing languages, that’s part of the healing process. We are trying to recover from that colonial history.” Native American knowledge, he said, “is really grounded in our language — the grounding of stories, our storytelling traditions, our words for the natural world, words that describe our social relations.” 

Now, four years after her first free language classes, the Department is thrilled to announce that starting this Autumn 2021, Tami Hohn will be a permanent full-time Assistant Teaching Professor teaching the Southern Lushootseed language series every year as well as additional courses on the Lushootseed calendar and Coast Salish culture and the environment.

While the steady growth of Southern Lushootseed on campus is inspiring to witness, it did not start with Hohn. As an excerpt from the Teaching Native Languages article details, “In the 1960s, a small group of scholars and community members started interviewing and recording first-language speakers. Many Lushootseed resources wouldn’t exist today without the work of Upper Skagit Tribe member Vi Hilbert and UW linguist Thomas Hess, who collaborated over four decades to document, preserve and standardize Lushootseed as a modern language. Hilbert taught Northern Lushootseed at the UW for many years until her retirement in 1988. ‘The magnitude of work in the past has made our work today that much better and more effective,’ says Hohn, adding that the documents and recordings from first-language speakers are invaluable to today’s learners.”

Re-establishing Southern Lushootseed language at the UW has taken consistent, and focused effort. Small courses must enroll a minimum number of students to continue being offered. Some in the University’s administration doubted the sustainability of such a course. Yet, with Hohn’s engaging and inclusive teaching style, starting students from the very basics while immediately teaching students to speak the language using games, grammatical translations, and stories, the class drew a consistent group of students quarter after quarter and year over year. “This is a course I share widely with incoming students, Native and non-Native, all across campus,” says AIS Academic Advisor, Kai Wise. “I’ve visited Tami’s classes and I know the environment she creates feels engaging and compassionate, so everyone feels they can learn and make friends doing it. The pressure isn’t on perfection, it’s learning for language use and understanding, and her teaching methods welcome non-traditional learners, often students from underrepresented minorities, who can often feel the rote memorization and standard test-taking of language learning is not for them.” 

Class photo at the end of a year of Southern Lushootseed 2019 

Instructor Tami Hohn (seated front, middle) with her southern lushootseed class on the last day of the year 2019.

Dian Million, AIS Associate Professor and Department Chair wrote in her Letter from the Chair, “For the first time since our esteemed Upper Skagit elder Vi Hilbert worked here at the UW, AIS will be the academic home of a full-time Lushootseed language teacher. While we have been able to offer Lushootseed classes intermittently in the past, we now have a full year of scaffolded classes in Southern Lushootseed plus some advanced research opportunities to work with the language. Tami is dreaming more ways to bring Southern Lushootseed to our curriculum in other classes as well. Join me in welcoming Tami Hohn, Puyallup, as our new Assistant Teaching Professor in Southern Lushootseed Language. Congratulations again Tami!”