Family and former students of Pauline Flett celebrate new school name

Pauline Flett Photo
Courtesy of Barry Moses
Spokane Tribe elder Pauline Flett

SPOKANE, Wash. — With Spokane Public Schools Board deciding to name one of their new middle schools after Spokane Tribe elder, Pauline Flett, those who knew her are excited by the news.

“It was wonderful to hear that my grandmother (qeneʔ) was even nominated to have a school named after her,” Pauline’s grandson, Joshua Flett, said in an email. “To hear her name was approved is truly unbelievable.”

LaRae Wiley, co-founder of Salish School of Spokane and former student of Pauline, said she was her first teacher for language and touched so many people. She added she is very excited about the news of the middle school being named after her.

She said naming a school after Pauline was fitting because she was “such a giving, kind and patient teacher, and really believed in education, language and culture.” Wiley added she thinks it is really important for Spokane to recognize her, describing her as invaluable.

“On our visits, I would find her writing in notebooks, translating songs or writing different things down for those who want to learn the language,” Joshua said. “She loved it when people would bring her questions on how to say things.”

Barry “Sulustu” Moses, executive director of Spokane Language House who knew Pauline since he was a child, described her as a visionary and a champion of Salish language long before it was popular, and now her memory will live in the hearts and minds of children for generations to come.

He said how not too many generations ago, Indian children were beaten for speaking their Tribal language, but now a school has been named for Pauline, describing her as a true language advocate.

Well into Pauline’s middle years, Moses said the federal government adopted an official policy of Indian termination and even criminalized the practice of Native American religions. And yet against the flow of history, Pauline resisted.

“For more than fifty years, she labored tirelessly to preserve the Spokane Language for future generations,” Moses said. “She recorded thousands of hours of speaking by fluent elders, and also transcribed those tapes by hand in both English and Salish. In her lifetime, she created a massive archive that has become a critical foundation for a new generation of language speakers.”

Joshua said Pauline’s mother, Salena Garry Pascal, helped her out too, particularly when Pauline got stuck on how to describe a word. Pascal was one of the elders who recorded words, stories, songs or whatever came to mind. Joshua said his qeneʔ would translate and transcribe Pascal’s recordings and pull words out to be organized into a Salish-English dictionary.

“Without the work of my qeneʔ, and the many elders she worked with, our language would be lost. We only have a few fluent elders left,” Joshua said. “But there are an increasing number of younger people picking up the language and teaching it to their kids.”

Joshua added her dedication to Salish has motivated him to follow in her footsteps where he has been learning the language since 2015, and was part of a team that helped open an Immersion school. He is hopeful for the future, and maybe 10-15 years from now there will be children who will be dual language learners from birth.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: SPS decides on names for new middle schools