Spend a few minutes talking to Herman Fillmore and you quickly learn how deeply he cares about the Washoe people, language and culture.
As a young adult living at the Dresslerville Colony of the Washoe Indians in Gardnerville, Fillmore has taken enormous steps to establish the revival of his native WaÅ¡iw language.
Fillmore is teaching a Washoe Language and Culture class at Western Nevada College this semester on the Douglas Campus.
â€œThis class is open, and everyone is welcome to learn as much as they can,â€ Fillmore said of the twice-weekly Community Education class. â€œI see WNC and the partnership with the school as a way to bring knowledge back to the community and spread it outward.â€
Eventually, Fillmore hopes to see young members of his tribe continue their study of the language at WNC, so they can help their language and culture flourish well into the future.
To begin the process of learning the language, which is spoken mainly in areas around Lake Tahoe, Fillmore isnâ€™t intending to focus on writing and reading.
â€œItâ€™s more communication and conversation, playing with the language and having fun,â€ he said.
In introducing the language at WNC, Fillmore plans to create a variety of situations and utilize members of the class to assist in the learning process.
At home, Fillmore devotes much of his time to teaching WaÅ¡iw to younger members of the Washoe Tribe, providing a foundation for future speakers of the language. He also visits middle schools and high schools in the area to assist students with the language during their lunch hours.
â€œOur main focus is with our youth because they are the ones who are going to take it the furthest,â€ Fillmore said.
The rush of mid-19th century settlers moving West in search of gold and silver preceded the decline of WaÅ¡iw speakers. Children were once taken away from tribal members to learn English and a different culture.
Fillmore doesnâ€™t see himself as being special for this huge undertaking. Rather, heâ€™s continuing what the tribeâ€™s elders have done before him to ensure that the Washoeâ€™s culture, identity and ideals arenâ€™t lost or forgotten.
â€œI work with the children at different levels to take some of the pressure off the elders so they can be happy in their older years and someone else takes on some responsibility so we can continue on forever,â€ Fillmore said. â€œIf they hadnâ€™t done this before, a lot of what we do wouldnâ€™t be here. And this doesnâ€™t account for what we lost. We are constantly jogging the eldersâ€™ memories to get some words.
â€œIf we lose our language and culture, weâ€™ve lost our entire world view and perspective.â€
Washoe Tribe members Steven James and Adele James are serving as co-instructors for the class, ensuring that Fillmore is on his game.
â€œThe funny thing is that if elders are present and Iâ€™m in front of them, Iâ€™m nervous,â€ Fillmore said. â€œI want to make sure that all of my Iâ€™s are dotted and all my Tâ€™s are crossed. It helps me out a lot, too.â€
Steven James estimates that only a half-dozen fluent speakers of the language remain in the area.
â€œHerman is still learning from the elders,â€ Steven James said. â€œHeâ€™s been with the language for quite a few years, and I try to help them as much as I can.â€