By Miriam Raftery
June 25, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) – Only about 100 fluent speakers of the Kuyemaay dialect remain -- and most of thoe are in Mexico, Margaret Field, a professor of American Indian Studies at San Diego State University told the San Diego Union-Tribune. She added, “All indigenous languages around the world are endangered, in that they could disappear within a generation or two.”
But here in San Diego’s East County, local Native American tribal members are making efforts to keep their language alive.
At the Barona Museum and Cultural Center in Lakeside (photo, above), for example, classes are being held for elders to teach their ancient language dialects—and the students now include many young people.
In the early years of the 20th century, Native American children were forced into Indian schools run by whites and told to speak only English, abandoning their native language, culture and heritage. But just as there has been an effort to revive cultural traditions such as bird-singing, so, too, is a renaissance in language skills now underway.
Pat Curo has taught the stories learned from his elders, and now his daughter continues the tradition. The museum includes the first-ever dictionary of the Kumeyaay language as well. In addition, the Barona reservation this year hosted the annual Yuman Language Summit to help keep Kumeyaay and other Yuman languages alive for future generations.
How do you keep a technically-savvy younger generation interested in a language from the past?
By creating tools to use that language that kids will embrace—such as a game that includes vision quests and caring for the earth, or a cell phone app that Viejas funded that includes audio recordings for students to hear the language spoken.
It’s all part of what Marina Drummer with Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival calls a “statewide renaissance that may tribes are participating in.”
At Kumeyaayinfo.org, According to the site, there are two Kumeyaay dialects, northern (Iipay) and southern (Tiipay). Kumeyaay is a Hokan language of Yuman stock, which also includes Cocopah, Maricopa, Quechan, Mohave, Pai Pai, Yavapai, Havasupai, and Hualapai. The site includes videos including native Kumeyaay speakers telling stories.
A website, www.Kumeyaay.org, has been set up by Sam Brown, a Kumeyaay elder, to help teach language skills including .gif flash images and audio recordings of words or phrases such as “KwaHup” (Come in) and “Kwahan KaNaap” (Say something good).
“The number of fluent speakers on each reservation can be counted on one or maybe two hands,” his website states. “If you learn the few phrases here you know more language than most people today.”