Students competed in four categories: vocabulary, phrases, sentences and speaking. Tribal elders judged the competition.
The event was an opportunity for students enrolled in Paiute classes to “encourage each other in preserving and revitalizing the Paiute language,” according to the district’s Indian Education Program and Equity & Diversity Department. Students of all races can enroll in Paiute.
“We continue to celebrate the rich culture and diversity of our Native Americans and indigenous people of Washoe,” deputy Superintendent Kristen McNeill told attendees. “Paiute Language Bowl is our opportunity as a school district and community to highlight the work and knowledge of our students as they gain a deeper understanding of the Paiute language and culture.”
Spanish Springs sophomore Brandon Ondelacy said he decided to enroll in Paiute because his older sister had taken the class.
“It’s my native language and I never got to learn it,” Ondelacy said. “I now want to teach it to my younger brothers and sisters.”
Spanish Springs’ Justice Forest said he knew Spanish was the most prevalent foreign language offered in high school but opted for Paiute.
“I wanted to learn a language native to our country ,” said Forest, also a sophomore. “It’s part of our history, but so forgotten.”
About 1.5 percent of Washoe County students identify as American Indian.
According to the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity’s Endangered Languages Project, there are about 700 remaining native Paiute speakers in the United States, most being age 60 or older. However, it indicated there are some semi-speakers and younger people who pick it up from their elders.
“Our language is the most crucial building block of our culture and our sense of self,” event keynote speaker Kailauni Harry told the crowd. “Our language is more than just words. Our language is a spirit that carries so much strength. It is beautiful, sacred and resilient and it’s still here for us.”
Reed High School finished second in the competition. North Valleys High School, which had won first place the past three years, finished third.
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.