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Why Stacey Burns teaches her Native Paiute language to high school students

Stacey Burns poses in a traditional Paiute buck skin dress complete with beads, porcupine quills, and eagle feathers.
Alisha Numan
Stacey Burns teaches Paiute language classes at Spanish Springs High School in Washoe County, Nevada.

Stacey Burns is a Paiute language teacher at Spanish Springs High School. KUNR Youth Media’s Kaden Ackerson sat down with her to learn what has inspired her to share her Native language with high school students in the Washoe County School District.


JOSE DAVILA IV, HOST: For the latest KUNR Youth Media story, reporter Kaden Ackerson sits down with her Paiute language teacher, Stacey Burns, to learn what has inspired her to share her Native language with high school students in the Washoe County School District.


KADEN ACKERSON: I’m here at Spanish Springs High School with Stacey Burns to talk about how her family’s history has led her to linguistics. Ms. Burns is our Numu — or commonly referred to as Paiute — language and culture teacher.

STACEY BURNS: (Spoken in Paiute) Nu Stacey Burns mee nane’a. Nu onga’a tuka’a Nu udutu’ugwaitu numu. Nu paseapu nobegayoo.

So, I let you know what my name is. I let you know my tribe. I am of the Hot Water People of Benton Paiute Tribe; that’s where I’m enrolled. I also have descendancy to the Salt Eater band of Paiute from Coleville, California.

ACKERSON: In 1860, Native American boarding schools were established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Some schools had the intention of assimilating Natives into American culture. Ms. Burns talks about how her grandmother's experience in one of these schools inspired her to preserve the language.

BURNS: My grandma went to the Stewart Indian Boarding School, so a lot of her language was taken from her. She wasn’t able to speak in school. So they told her, “You cannot speak your language.” So there was a lot of trauma and a lot of hurt from that because she was disciplined to not speak. She didn’t teach her children in fear that they would be prosecuted, or they would be heard, or they wouldn’t survive in the world, ‘cause this is a new world, so she taught us instead. So she has seen her error and then she says, “I didn’t teach my kids, but I’m going to teach you.”

ACKERSON: Ms. Burns now uses the knowledge she has learned from her grandmother to teach others in an effort to revitalize the language.

BURNS: Eventually, not only as a cultural person, but as a person in this world, you find your place, and you find that need. And it’s something that you don’t try really hard at, but you’re really good at it. It just comes easy. I think that’s how I found it. But it’s a lifestyle. It’s just who I am, so why not teach and educate others, I guess, ‘cause there’s a need for it.

ACKERSON: Through teaching students in Washoe County, she has dedicated her life to linguistics and keeping the Numu language alive. For KUNR Youth Media, I’m Kaden Ackerson.

DAVILA: Stacey Burns is also the language and culture coordinator for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.

Kaden Ackerson is a recent graduate of Spanish Springs High School and a reporter for KUNR Youth Media, a special partnership with the Washoe County School District and Report for America to train the next generation of journalists.

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