Lushootseed is a language spoken by various indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest. It is a member of the Salish language family, which is comprised of approximately twenty surviving languages. While Salish languages are spoken from central British Columbia to Northern Oregon, Lushootseed is the indigenous language of much of Western Washington. It was historically spoken from Olympia in the south up through Skagit in the north, and spread as far east as the Cascade Mountains. Lushootseed has two prominent dialects, Northern Lushootseed and Southern Lushootseed. The name Lushootseed is itself a combination of two words meaning “Salt Water” and “Language”, and refers to both the Northern and Southern dialects. Below is a map of the area the various tribes of Washington State once inhabited, along with the languages they spoke.
Another map shows more detail on the languages spoken in the Coast Salish territories along the Salish Sea (languages listed in bold red lettering). Note the two locations of Lushootseed speakers, one in the North and one to the South.
At one point in time, Lushootseed was spoken by approximately twelve thousand people across the greater Puget Sound area. Though the language was once prominent in the region, it underwent a sharp decline after the Treaty of Point Elliott. The decline was largely brought about when thousands of young Native Americans were forced to attend boarding schools in the 1880’s through the 1920’s. In a concerted effort of forced assimilation, these boarding schools punished the use of Lushootseed, and as a result the language experienced a severe decrease in speakers. This was only made worse by economic pressures, as English was the language required to find work during this period in time. By the 1950’s only eight fluent speakers of Lushootseed remained. Lushootseed, at this point in time, had no written language, and by the 1960’s much of Salish culture had suffered as a result of language suppression. Though Lushootseed and other languages of the Pacific Northwest are not the only native languages at risk of extinction, the Northwest Pacific Plateau is considered to be one of the top five hotspots for language loss in the entire world.