GARDNERVILLE, Nev. — Ancient legends of the Washoe people have been brought to life in the native Washoe language through four children’s books.
Tribe elder Melba Rakow and Washoe person Lisa Enos translated four legends into children’s books illustrated by local artists.
“We are trying to bring back our language,” Enos, teacher and language coordinator of the Dresslerville Head Start program, said in a September 2014 interview with The Record-Courier. “No one under the age of about 65 speaks the language. Our language is our identity and what sets a culture apart from the rest of the world.
“Our language holds our stories, our values and teachings from relatives before us, it allows for a deeper understanding of our land and our society. It is our philosophies and ideologies.”
Each book dictates a legend of the Washoe culture.
“One story in particular about our seasons and their harvest cycles we really wanted to translate,” Enos said. “It is told by an ant, and we really wanted this legend because it tells the way of life for our year. I always start the school year telling that story.”
The other three stories include animals and their interactions with cultural aspects of the Washoe people.
The publication of the books were made possible by the Administration for Native Americans grant the school applied for in 2011.
The grant made it possible for Enos and Rakow to translate, contract illustrators, publish the books for the children of the tribe, and integrate a language “nest” into the preschool.
Four artists, each with connections to the tribe in some way, created the art for the books.
“Eventually we want (Dresslerville preschool students) to speak our language fluently. If we do not teach our language to our children our history dies,” Enos said. “We want the teachings of our relatives to live on in our children. We want our children to respect our elders’ teachings, as language is a tool to construct a way of thinking.
“When children have a strong sense of identity, research has proven that those individuals who have been raised with their language and culture are resilient and academically successful and will have a strong connection to their family and community.”
Rakow is the main teacher within the language nest, teaching the language and culture to the youngest members of the tribe with hopes of instilling these qualities in the preschool children.
“We wanted another means where our language was and that’s why we created the books,” Enos said.
The four books took about two years to complete from translating, illustration and editing, she said.
The books have since been made available for sale to the public, which Enos said was a goal of the tribe’s — to share their culture with the community outside of the reservation.
“We want to give some to local libraries and schools and look into areas of Tahoe where several of the legends are based,” she said.
Sarah Hauck is a former reporter for The Record-Courier, a newspaper within the Sierra Nevada Media Group, which publishes First Nation’s Focus.