Throughout the United States, many Native American languages are struggling to survive. According to Unesco, more than 130 of these languages are currently at risk, with 74 languages considered “critically endangered.” These languages preserve priceless cultural heritage, and some hold unexpected value – nuances in these languages convey unparalleled knowledge of the natural world. Many of these at-risk languages are found in my home state of California. Now for some, only a few fluent speakers remain.
This Op-Doc tells the story of Marie Wilcox, the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language, and the dictionary she has created. I met her through the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival, an organization that encourages the revival of languages like Wukchumni. Through training and mentorship, it has supported Ms. Wilcox’s work for several years. Ms. Wilcox’s tribe, the Wukchumni, is not recognized by the federal government. It is part of the broader Yokuts tribal group native to Central California. Before European contact, as many as 50,000 Yokuts lived in the region, but those numbers have steadily diminished. Today, it is estimated that fewer than 200 Wukchumni remain...
Vaughan-Lee, Emmanuel. "Who Speaks Wukchumni?" The New York Times. August 18, 2014. Video. (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/19/opinion/who-speaks-wukchumni.html?_r=1, accessed August 21, 2014)