Vi Herbert

In fall of 1978, I walked into a classroom on the second floor of Denny Hall and met Vi Hilbert, elder of the Upper Skagit tribe. Vi was teaching her language—Lushootseed—at the University of Washington. Lushootseed is the language of Puget Sound (the southern part of what is now called the Salish Sea). Lushootseed is the language Chief Seattle spoke here 150 years ago. Lushootseed is the language his ancestors spoke here for hundreds of years. Though people have spoken Lushootseed longer than people have spoken English, Lushootseed nearly died and was saved largely by the work of Vi Hilbert.


This extraordinary woman taught me how to live in this place where the words and culture of the First People are always present. With Vi, I witnessed the winter spirit dance in the longhouse, ritual burnings for the departed, bone games, and canoe races. With Vi, I traveled to the story places, where North Wind battled South Wind to determine how our weather would be and to the Snoqualmie Valley where the sisters climbed down a cedar bark rope from the sky world bringing the baby who would make things the way they are now. Vi gave me inspiration, assignments, gifts, and most importantly, my right work. Watch for the release of this collection of essays: Where the Language Lives: Sharing Indian Time with Vi Hilbert.


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