Quecholli Fortunate Eagle—along with Fawn Douglas, Loni Romo and Sen. Julia Ratti—was awarded an American Indian Achievement Award at the Governor’s Mansion on Nov. 18. Fortunate Eagle is a member of the Stillwater Shoshone Tribe and a 2017 graduate of Reed High, where he now teaches Paiute language classes.

Tell me about teaching the Paiute language? How’s that going?

I was employed by Washoe County School District after I graduated. I graduated from Reed this past June, and over the summer I was trying to find what I could do for work, and the application came up the week before the school year started, on Aug. 7. I said, “I’ll gladly volunteer.” … I went through the official interview process and was hired. … Being able to connect with my students—they feel I could talk with them more being in their age group. It’s a huge honor, not only teaching the language and the culture, but being there for them as well.

What’s the program like?

I try following a basic curriculum that was plotted out by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. … In the class itself, I roughly have about 11 students. I also have three other students who are peer tutors.

Are all of your students Paiute?

Only six or seven of them are even Paiute. Two of my students aren’t even Native. I give the same to each student—take honor and pride in taking care of a dying language.

How did you learn the language yourself?

I learned it when I was still in high school. My junior year I was able to be a peer tutor. My senior year I became a peer mentor and assisted with teaching.

You mentioned you like to be there for students in other ways, too.

Some students, outside the classroom, they face certain issues at home. Even though I’m not a counselor, I can give them advice and help them out any way I can. I can get resources that they need. … It’s very nice, because in the classroom itself, it feels to me like a family. I know a lot of the students feel the same. The huge thing is you’re with these same people every day, and you’re learning with them every day. It’s best to build these relationships and these bonds with them.

Do you and your students ever connect with Paiute speakers outside of the classroom?

In the classroom, we get a lot of guests. Saundra Mitrovich from UNR comes in and does social political units with our students. [She works with the university’s Center For Cultural Diverstity.] We have visitors from Pyramid Lake come in as well. Students from Wadsworth, Nixon, Hungry Valley, they feel connected once they’re inside the classroom. It’s really a great experience. Sherry Rupert [Nevada Indian Commission’s executive director], she and I were talking about, in the future, once they come back from winter break, doing a unit about boarding schools. I asked her if she would be willing to come into the class.

Tell me one Paiute word that everyone should know?

Pesa tabeno. And what that basically means is “good day.” Even though it is a very simple phrase, it’s something that a lot of people don’t say anymore. People will just pass people that they know—and that they don’t know—without saying anything. Just saying something like “good morning” could mean we’re acknowledging that we’re all in this together.