SPANISH SPRINGS, Nev. (KRNV & MyNews4.com) - Paiute elder Reynelda James teaches her native language at Spanish Springs High School.
The students learn vocabulary, pronunciation and tribal customs.
"Some pick it up very quickly. For others it's a little bit hard," James said.
It's a language that even many native Paiutes do not speak fluently, because for decades Paiute children growing up in northern Nevada were required by the federal government to attend a boarding school in Carson City where they learned English, not Paiute.
"They brought them to these schools to immerse them in a different culture. They were not allowed to speak their native language once they got here, said Sherry Rupert, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission.
"My ancestors were forbidden to speak the language in boarding schools and it was a terrible time," added Reynelda James.
As a result many Paiute families have lost a vital link in their culture. It's a gap the Washoe County School District is hoping to fill by offering Paiute as an elective high school course. Washoe County is the first school district in the state to offer Paiute classes.
"The students at Spanish Springs wanted to learn their native language rather than learning French or Spanish, said James.
Senior Wyatt Wrenn, who's grandparents speak Paiute, says he looks forward to the day when he can converse with them and learn more about his own indian ancestry.
"I can speak to them in our language, share the culture with them and pass it on to my kids," he told us.
Other students also feel the lessons they're learning will pay off down the road.
"I think its very important to our culture," said sophomore Katie Wadsworth. "If we don't have our language our culture wouldn't be our culture."
Paiute classes are also offered at Reed and North Valleys High Schools. The classes are funded by federal money set aside to support Native American education.