We Dare Tell

Interview with Sophie Mays Quequesah

"My goal, and the reason I'm here, is to keep the Salish language alive, teaching others, so that they can in turn teach our young people."

-Sophie Mays

What's your name?

Sophie Mays Quequesah. Quequesah is my maiden name.

What's your profession?

I'm an instructor of the Salish language at SKC.

Where did you grow up?

Here, on the reservation.

Do you remember what it was like when night was dark?

I didn't learn to speak English until I was seven or eight years old

and taught myself. We didn't have electricity or running water. We had to haul water, cut and stack wood. We had cows to tend and would use a team of horses to get the hay around. We had to watch and feed the cows, horses and chickens. In the winter, I would walk in the snow two miles from the Job Corps to the highway.

What's your tribal affiliation?

Salish from my dad's side; he was from Oregon. And my mom was half Kootenai and half Salish.

How many siblings do you have?

There were 14 but only two are left, 10 Boys: Pete, Mike, Louie, Joe, Tom, John, Moe, Alex, Don and Nick. Four girls: Mary Sue, Teresa, Martina and Susan. All are deceased except myself and my brother Alex.

Where did you go to school?

Dropped out of school in the 8th grade then later came back to SKC. Started with a typing class and dropped out three times before finally finishing a class. I was very shy in my classes.

What were your goals when you were growing up?

After my dad died and I lost my mom, I really didn't want to do or be anything. My friends encouraged me to go to SKC to get an education. I got a job as a secretary to Joe McDonald. I was a good secretary and worked my way up to a teaching position.
 

Do you feel you've accomplished your goals?

I used to tell myself I couldn't accomplish anything, but I finally overcame that attitude. My goal, and the reason I'm here, is to keep the Salish language alive, teaching others, so that they can in turn teach our young people, 'Keep our language. Don't lose your language. Don't forget about it.'

Tell us about your family.

I have nine grandchildren. I like to spend time with them and enjoy taking them sledding in the winter and swimming in the summer.

What's your great story?

I have not traveled much, but when I was asked to go to New Zealand to learn how they are trying to revive their language, I just took off without really thinking about it. It was quite an experience. I've also gotten to travel to Hawaii.

Have you had to overcome any tragedies or obstacles in your life?

Learning how to speak English was probably my greatest obstacle, for a long time I was ashamed to ask for help but finally overcame this and learned English. Losing my brothers, sisters and parents was hard.

What's the craziest thing you've ever done?

I've done lots of crazy things; I'd have to think about it; let's skip this one.

Who have been your role models?

Mainly my mom Anastasia Finley, but many people have affected my life: my siblings and many people here at SKC.

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Sophie "Supi" Quequesah Mays, was a shy person who loved her people and dedicated her life to teaching the Salish language. Supi was a gifted instructor at Salish Kootenai College and at Nkwusm - the Salish Language Immersion School.