Many people know about the 12-month cycle that the standard calendar presents, but it’s different for Indian tribal communities, according to staff members of the Samish Indian Nation.

The Samish people live in a year dictated by the 13 lunar cycles. Those 13 moons help guide the Samish through the year.

A new storymap from the Samish Indian Nation explores that cycle, detailing what happens within the tribe during each of the phases as well as tying into native language.

“The 13 moons teach both the language and the connections between our words and our community,” Xws7ámeshqen (Samish Language) Resource Development Specialist Brittany Schoch said.

The storymap is available online

Schoch has been working to collect information for the storymap, including photos of native plants and when they grow and information about the different activities the tribe does throughout the year.

Each moon represents a different season, Schoch said.

For example, the moon of the howling winds and the shaking leaves correlates most closely to the month of November on the 12-month calendar.

The native calendar doesn’t align strictly to number of days, she said. Instead, it is focused on when plants are blooming and what traditional activities the tribe does during that time.

The new storymap is helping people learn those activities, see the story of the Samish people and learn more about the language they speak. Included are words, phrases and songs that have to do with that 13 moon calendar, Language Program Manager Kelly Hall said.

Linked in the storymap are the words for the different moons and the seasons, as well as resources and information that go along with them and with traditional activity, she said.

Audio clips along with the storymap help showcase the pronunciation of the words.

“It gives tribal citizens the chance to hear that language,” Hall said, talking about how the alphabet looks different than the English alphabet. “It’s not super easy for folks learning to just see a word and be able to say it.”

Schoch said she hopes that people who view the storymap and learn more about the 13 moons will gain a deeper understanding of the language, the land and the culture and creates a connection for people.

The storymap directly showcases things that are part of life for the Samish people, Hall said.

To do the research, Schoch said she read books, reached out to staff members, researched online and talked with Samish elders.

“Some quotes and teachings are incorporated,” Hall said.

Casey Palmer-McGee, the GIS program manager for the tribe and who created the storymap, said he works to make sure the maps have a specific story that they follow and that the images and audiofiles are built into that to create an integrated experience for viewers.

In this one, there are plenty of photos gathered by Hall and Schoch. Those photos really help tell the story, he said.

“I think it came together really well,” he said.

Hall said she spent a couple of years collecting the photographs of different resources and different cycles. That included photos of different traditional plants that had to be identified. Some of them could only be found at certain times of the year and in certain parts of the Samish traditional territory, Hall said.

That information on plants was fascinating, Schoch said. She learned more about traditional plants and their uses in medicine.

“It makes me feel connected to my Samish roots and my surroundings,” she said.

This map is high interest, Palmer-McGee said. In the first couple weeks it was posted, it already had roughly 1,000 views.

“People are already seeing it and it’s already spreading quickly,” he said. “That was the goal, outreach and education.”

Education is at the forefront of the language department as a whole, Hall said.

Right now, there is a language shift that includes the Samish people losing proficiency with the Samish language. The Samish people are dispersed through the U.S. and Canada, she said.

That means a lot of language speakers are isolated and unable to pass their language knowledge on to others. Many of them are in Canada, which means they have not been able to cross the border for more than a year.

So Hall and the language team are working to learn about evidence-based language revitalization. They are looking at other tribal nations that are working to reverse that language shift with a dispersed community and without elders on site.

Normally, within a tribal nation, a fluent speaker would pair with one learner, eventually leading to another fluent speaker.

“We don’t have that option,” Hall said.

They are finding other models that will work and creating a curriculum that will help bring the Samish language back to its citizens.

Otherwise, the language can die out, Hall said.

The staff isn’t hosting regular language classes at this time, but there are several resources on the website, like a word list and videos of songs and stories in the Samish language.

It also includes audio versions of words, so people can see them and hear what they sound like. The resources aren’t meant to create fluent speakers, but they do help with the basics, Hall said.

Schoch also maintains Samish language accounts on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to help people learn more about the language. Not only is that giving people the chance to hear the language, it is creating a community and a dialogue between people who are interested.

“It’s a place where folks from the Samish community can engage with one another,” Hall said.

Those accounts are listed under “Learn Samish Language.”

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