Written by on in Heritage Tourism , Interpretation , Tourism .

Native Language and Tribal Heritage

Back in June, I wrote about the Pend Oreille Basin Heritage Project and the opportunities for using mobile technology to satisfy requirements of regulatory compliance or to serve as creative mitigation. A component of that work was collaborating with the Kalispel Indian Tribe in northeast Washington to both interpret their history and to do so in a way that recognizes the cultural significance of places and the ongoing preservation of the Salish language. This has much broader application than just including tribes as stakeholders in projects and throwing in a few Native American sites to broaden the sweep of historical interpretation: it can aid in the preservation of language and, in a dynamic way, provide tribal communities a way to both tell their stories through their own voices (literally) and promote heritage tourism in the process.

Our work with the Kalispel Tribe began by identifying five key locations within Pend Oreille County, Washington, that embodied key aspects of Kalispel heritage. The challenge was picking sites that were safe, accessible, allowed the visitor to garner a sense of place connected to the stories, and that did not reveal cultural sensitive sites that might be susceptible to vandalism or entice trespassing. To that end, working with the tribe’s Culture Department, we identified five sites that could serve as focal points for highlighting important components of tribal history, and then worked collaboratively with the tribe to draft narrative text that not only told those stories but wove in Salish language elements.

Upon final approval of the text by the Culture Department, tribal members recorded audio narration [Listen to the example in our online Explore featurehere] of the text, which, along with photos, were all uploaded to Next Exit History. The Kalispel sites are also viewable in a custom website that we created for the Pend Oreille County Public Utility District.

To the extent that many tribes across the nation are actively engaged in language preservation, Next Exit History is an ideal tool to assist with these initiatives. Not only can Next Exit History embed Native language elements within the standard English language narrative, but it also has the built-in capability to include full translations that enable the user to toggle between English and Native (or other) languages. When coupled with rooting stories in physical places on the landscape, Next Exit History is a natural fit with tribal education programs while at the same time educating the general public and travelers on Native culture.

David Strohmaier is a partner of Three21 Innovations, LLC, the developer of Next Exit HistoryTM, and a former historian with Historical Research Associates, Inc. He currently serves as a county commissioner in Missoula County, Montana.