Janet Yoder with Jill LaPointe — 'Where the Language Lives: Vi Hilbert and the Gift of Lushootseed'

The life and work of Upper Skagit tribal elder Vi Hilbert, who, more than anyone, revitalized her native language—Lushootseed—and shared it and the culture it expresses with the world.


Third Place Books is thrilled to welcome Janet Yoder to our Seward Park store. Yoder will be discussing her biopgraphy of legendary Lushootseed teacher Vi Hilbert, Where the Language Lives: Vi Hilbert and the Gift of Lushootseed. She will be joined in conversation Jill LaPointe, executive director of Lushootseed Research and Vi Hilbert's granddaughter.

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About Where the Language Lives. . .

In 1978, Seattle writer Janet Yoder took a Lushootseed class at the University of Washington. She was expecting to learn a little about this Salish language, and while Yoder did begin her Lushootseed lessons, what followed was lifelong learning and lots of adventures with Skagit tribal elder Vi Hilbert.

Drawn from thirty years of friendship and interviews, Where the Language Lives is a tribute to Vi Hilbert’s life, work, and her quest to preserve her native language. Vi carried her culture by the example of her life as she shared her beloved Lushootseed language through her teaching, speaking, storytelling, recording, and publishing. Without her diligent research and her transcription and translation of early recordings in Lushootseed, much of the language could have been lost to the world. Her historical preservation efforts were recognized with a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, presented by First Lady Hillary Clinton. She was also named a Washington State Living Treasure in 1989. Vi tasked Yoder with this collaborative book as a way of bearing witness, sometimes referring to Yoder as her “chronicler” and showing appreciation for the essays written during her life.

To celebrate the legacy of her dear friend and mentor, Yoder poured decades of Vi’s teachings and stories, along with her experience of knowing Vi, into these essays. Ultimately, Where the Language Lives is a tribute to the memory of a woman who profoundly impacted a culture, a history, and the longevity of a language.

Vi’s commitment to preserving Lushootseed contributed greatly to the renaissance of interest in Lushootseed and the growth of tribal language programs across western Washington.

These essays cover the cultural significance of canoes, baskets, blankets, the bone game, naming ceremonies, stories, and story places, as well as the ritual burning of Vi’s parents’ house in order to send it to them in the spirit world and how Vi came to commission the Healing Heart Symphony.

One foreword note is written by Vi Hilbert’s granddaughter, Jill La Pointe, and the second by Vi’s great-granddaughter Sasha La Pointe. Sasha, who carries Vi’s traditional name, is the author of the memoir Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk (Counterpoint Press).


Praise for Where the Language Lives. . .

“Heartfelt and honest, Yoder vividly portrays the remarkable life of this astounding woman with style and determination.”
—Jay Miller, author of Lushootseed Culture and the Shamanic Odyssey: An Anchored Radiance

“Reading Where the Language Lives is like taking a long drive into Skagit Country with Vi Hilbert. I raise my hands to Janet Yoder for sharing her intimate visits with a beloved elder. Each essay is a beautifully-crafted treasure, and together they resonate as musically as an olivella shell necklace. Happiness, indeed.
—Katie Jennings, filmmaker, Huchoosedah, Traditions of the Heart and The Healing Heart of Lushootseed

Where the Language Lives is a masterful presentation of the beauty and depth of Coast Salish lifeways, marvelously embodied in the life and teachings of Vi Hilbert. It is written in a flowing style, one revelation after another given just when the time is right.”
—Patrick Twohy, author of Beginnings—A Meditation on Coast Salish Lifeways

“This book arrives like a comet, bright and beautiful, illuminating a world of wonders in the life and work of Upper Skagit elder Vi Hilbert. It should be required reading for every resident of Puget Sound Country. It is a delightful and intimate look into the life and culture of one of the most respected elders of Coast Salish territory.”
—Lynda Mapes, author of Breaking Ground: The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and the Unearthing of Tse-whit-zen Village

Where the Language Lives is a profound and stunning book that captures the spirit of the treasured Upper Skagit elder Vi Hilbert with love and richness of detail. [. . .] Written with grace and insight [. . .] it chronicles the Indigenous culture that Vi Hilbert helped to preserve, which she shared over three decades with author Janet Yoder, among many others. If you live anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, you must read this book.”
—Priscilla Long, author of Fire and Stone: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

In 1978, Seattle writer Janet Yoder took a Lushootseed class at the University of Washington with Skagit tribal elder Vi Hilbert. She was expecting to learn a little about this local indigenous language, but what followed was a lifelong journey with Vi, who endeavored to preserve a language on the brink of disappearance and to teach those around her how to live in the place where the language lives. Janet Yoder’s work has been published in literary journals, including the Baltimore Review, Chautauqua, River Teeth, and the American Literary Review. She lives with her husband on a floating home on Lake Union.

Jill La Pointe, MSW, is the Executive Director of Lushootseed Research, and a member of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe and Nooksack tribal descendant. In 2006, when her grandmother, Vi Hilbert, retired as Director of the nonprofit Lushootseed Research (LR), Jill humbly agreed to carry on the work. Under Jill’s leadership, LR has successfully hosted an Annual Lushootseed Language Conference since 2010, hosted by Seattle University, has continued providing resource materials, and most recently completed a documentary on the Healing Heart of Lushootseed, about her grandmother’s dream to bring healing to the world through music. She draws strength and healing from her work with Lushootseed Research and envisions a day when all people who visit or live in Seattle and the surrounding area will be able to see and hear the beautiful Lushootseed language and learn from the traditional culture and values of the first people of this land.

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