Our Mother Tongues Blog

The Revival of Wampanoag: Listen to the Podcast

July 30, 2013 - 5:03 PM | by Our Mother Tongues

Listen to the WQRC podcast (click here) and learn more about the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project's plans to launch a Wampanoag Language Public Charter School in August 2015. Curriculum Specialist Nitana Hicks, Project Administrator Judi Urquhart, and Charter Coordinator Jennifer Weston join WQRC's Kathryn Eident on the Sunday Journal podcast. Enjoy!


Reviving the Yurok language

July 15, 2013 - 3:28 PM | by Our Mother Tongues

Marc Martin and Lee Romney of the Los Angeles Times

EUREKA, Calif. — Carole Lewis throws herself into her work as if something big was at stake.

“Pa’-ah,” she tells her Eureka High School class, gesturing at a bottle of water. She whips around and doodles a crooked little fish on the blackboard, hinting at the dip she’s prepared with “ney-puy” — salmon, key to the diet of California’s largest Native American tribe.

For thousands of years before Western settlers arrived, the Yurok thrived in dozens of villages along the Klamath River. By the 1990s, however, academics had predicted their language soon would be extinct. As elders passed away, the number of native speakers dropped to six.

But tribal leaders would not let the language die.

Last fall, Eureka High became the fifth and largest school in Northern California to launch a Yurok-language program, marking the latest victory in a Native language revitalization program widely lauded as the most successful in the state.

At last count, there were more than 300 basic Yurok speakers, 60 with intermediate skills, 37 who are advanced and 17 who are considered conversationally fluent.

If all goes as planned, Lewis' 20 students will move on to a second year of study, satisfying the world language requirement for admission to University of California and Cal State schools.

But the teacher and tribe have some longer-term goals: boosting Native American high school graduation rates and college admissions numbers; deepening the Yurok youths' bonds to their culture; and ensuring that their language will regain prominence after half a century of virtual silence.

The decimation of the language dates to the first half of the 20th century, when tens of thousands of Native American youngsters across the country, Lewis' mom among them, were sent to government-run boarding schools. The effort to assimilate the youth into Euro-American culture pressed them to abandon their own. Often they were beaten for speaking in their native tongues.

»»» Read the complete article and enjoy a video & slideshow on
The Frameworks Page of the Los Angeles Times


May 14, 2013 - 10:34 AM | by Our Mother Tongues

Mashpee Wampanoag Logo



By Jennifer Weston, Our Mother Tongues Co-Producer

 Department Overview:  The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Language Department was established by Council Ordinance 2009-ORD-005 on June 10, 2009 to recognize the role of language as “central to the protection of the customs, culture, and spiritual well-being of the people,” and to acknowledge the “critical state of the newly reclaimed Wampanoag language, and the need to secure its survival for the benefit of future generations.” The department is a unit of the Cultural and Historic Department. The Tribal Council reaffirmed its commitment to language revitalization in resolution 2011-RES-025 to recognize the inherent “birth right of each Wampanoag child adult to speak his or her language given by Creator.”

The Language Department collaborates with the community-run intertribal non-profit organization, the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project (WLRP). All tribal household members who enroll in the free language classes offered by project-certified teachers are members of the WLRP Language Committee, which meets monthly to review project activities, progress, and policies. A seven member board of directors provides oversight for all external grants funding and applications.

Founded twenty years ago with the key objective of reclaiming Wôpanâôt8âôk (Wampanoag language) as the principal means of expression within the Wampanoag Tribal Nation, WLRP’s efforts have gained international recognition for becoming the first American Indian community to reclaim and revitalize a sleeping tribal language, even with no recent living speakers.

This unprecedented effort was possible through linguistics training in Algonquian languages, and by working with the largest Native-written corpus of 17th and 18th century documents in North America translated and written by Wampanoag people—including the King James Bibles of 1663 and 1680, and hundreds of personal letters, wills, deeds, and land transactions written in Wôpanâôt8âôk. Wampanoag people were also the first American Indians to develop and use an alphabetic writing system.

Community-Based Language Revitalization:

“Reclaiming our language is one means of repairing the broken circle of cultural loss and pain. To be able to understand and speak our language means to see the world as our families did for centuries. This is but one path which keeps us connected to our people, the earth, and the philosophies and truths given to us by the Creator.”

WLRP and the Language Department are committed to training new generations of fluent speakers of Wôpanâôt8âôk through master apprentice and other language immersion techniques. Twelve language teachers have also been trained and certified to provide instruction for beginners in the complex grammar and structure of Wôpanâôt8âôk. While students of all ages are welcome in community language classes, WLRP’s Language Committee and Board of Directors have prioritized founding a K-3 Wôpanâôt8ây Pâhshaneekamuq (Wampanoag Language Immersion Charter School), based on widespread community demand for children’s language classes.

Weekly classes and language immersion camps will continue as well; however, in order to train a new generation of proficient speakers fully bilingual in both Wôpanâôt8ây and English, a publicly-funded regional charter school will teach all K-3 subjects in Wôpanâôt8ây beginning in August 2015, and aim to add additional grade levels annually.

It is our deep belief that it is through our children and their language acquisition that the long term sustainability of our language can be ensured.

Department Advisory Boards:
*Memoranda of Understanding with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Council, and the Herring Pond and Assonet Wampanoag Councils.
*Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project Language Committee and Board of Directors
*Wôpanâôt8ây Pâhshaneekamuq Charter School Founding Board of Trustees

For language class schedules and registration forms for upcoming camps, including Summer Turtle (August 5-23, 2013) and Family Immersion Camp (September 13-15, 2013) visit wlrp.org

To see clips from the documentary, Âs Nutayuneân: We Still Live Here, about the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project visit the following sites:



We Still Live Here Screens in India

April 15, 2013 - 9:02 PM | by Our Mother Tongues

Last fall, Tolheishel Khaling, an MA student in Jharkhand, India, wrote wanting to present We Still Live Here at his university. The screening brought together a linguistics expert, the head of Indigenous Studies, a professor of anthropology and about 20 students who gathered to discuss tribal heritage and the fate of language. 

Tolheishel recently wrote from South Korea: "It would be a blatant lie if I said I did not shed tears watching the film. I am thousands of miles away from the Wampanoag people and their land but it emotionally struck a chord within me and connected me with them not because I am a tribal, but because I feel we are in the same boat. I used the film as a tool for invoking the importance of language and its preservation among the tribal students and awaken them to introspect on their own." 


Revival of nearly extinct Yurok language is a success story

February 6, 2013 - 11:00 PM | by Our Mother Tongues

watch videoThe number of native speakers fell to six at one point. But tribal leaders would not let Yurok die, and some Northern California schools are now teaching it.
By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times — Read Full Story · Watch Video

EUREKA, Calif. — Carole Lewis throws herself into her work as if something big is at stake.

"Pa'-ah," she tells her Eureka High School class, gesturing at a bottle of water. She whips around and doodles a crooked little fish on the blackboard, hinting at the dip she's prepared with "ney-puy" — salmon, key to the diet of California's largest Native American tribe.

For thousands of years before Western settlers arrived, the Yurok thrived in dozens of villages along the Klamath River. By the 1990s, however, academics had predicted their language soon would be extinct. As elders passed away, the number of native speakers dropped to six.

But tribal leaders would not let the language die.

Last fall, Eureka High became the fifth and largest school in Northern California to launch a Yurok-language program, marking the latest victory in a Native American language revitalization program widely lauded as the most successful in the state.

At last count, there were more than 300 basic Yurok speakers, 60 with intermediate skills, 37 who are advanced and 17 who are considered conversationally fluent.

If all goes as planned, Lewis' 20 students will move on to a second year of study, satisfying the world language requirement for admission to University of California and Cal State schools.

Read Full Story · Watch Video

Endangered Languages Update: Summer Language Programs

January 26, 2013 - 8:01 AM | by Our Mother Tongues

Tribal language programs nationwide have begun summer program preparations for a range of community language immersion and teacher training opportunities. Among Cultural Survival’s advisor programs, the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project and Euchee (Yuchi) Language Project, will offer multi-week language camps for youth focused on building conversational skills and ceremonial vocabulary to engage students as future community cultural leaders. During Summer 2012 Cultural Survival helped sponsor daily youth classes at the Euchee House in Sapulpa, OK, and the first annual Euchee Language Bowl competition. On Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Cultural Survival’s Endangered Languages program co-sponsored the Summer Turtle Camp for three dozen students who participated in traditional tribal fishing, clambake, and other food ways, along with crafts, and daily language lessons including songs, prayers, and performances for their families—and the Governor of Massachusetts on the final day of camp. This summer Cultural Survival is again seeking donors to co-sponsor these invaluable summer youth language and ceremonial training opportunities which are creating new generations Indigenous language speakers and future community leaders.

Read complete article at CulturalSurvival.org


A Whirlwind Trip Around Brazil with "We Still Live Here": A Luminous Visit with the Forest Tribe of Huni Kuin

December 15, 2012 - 8:56 PM | by Anne Makepeace

NOTE: This blog is part of Anne Makepeace’s American Film Showcase November 2012 Tour of Brazil with her documentary, We Still Live Here. Here are some wonderful links you may enjoy:

··· Check out many more amazing photographs on the Facebook Album ···

··· Read the entire blog of Anne’s tour of Brazil ···

··· Read more about the film We Still Live Here ···

On Monday, we set out on an expedition that would turn out to be the most moving and beautiful of the whole Brazilian experience.

After a four hour flight to the frontier town of Rio Branco, followed by six hours on rough road, we reached the town of Tarauacá to rest up for our visit to an indigenous tribe called the Huni Kuin, or True People, on the Pinuyá reserve. The trip was made much less arduous by the fact that I got to travel with Zezinho Yube, an accomplished filmmaker and a member of the Huni Kuin/Kaxinawa community we were setting out to visit.

On the long drive, we saw what had happened to most of the Huni Kuin’s territory — herds of cattle grazing on ranch land that settlers had burned out of the forest. Today there are approximately 10,000 Huni Kuin living on twelve reserves in the state of Acre, which borders on Bolivia and Peru. The Pinuyá reserve is the smallest of all.


We received a wonderful warm welcome from the tribal members. Alan and I were traveling with Marcos Afonso, Director  of the Library of the Forest in Rio Branco who had arranged the trip; two cultural attaches, John Matel and Angelina Smid, from the US Embassy in Brasilia; Amilton Matos, an anthropologist and linguist who works with the tribe; our enthusiastic translator Samuel Alves; and of course the wonderful Huni Kuin filmmaker, Zezinho Yube.

There were lots of speeches and oration, and then I was called upon to tell the group about We Still Live Here. It was odd to me not to be showing the film and letting it speak for itself, but I did my best and the tribal members were really moved by it’s wonderful story of cultural resilience. I asked the chief if the Huni Kuin had a message for the Wampanoag, and several members spoke for a long time about the importance of language and culture, of how impressed they were by the Wampanoags’ courage and persistence in bringing back the language. While the Huni Kuin still have many speakers, they know that they will have to fight for their language and culture to survive.


When the speeches were over, our US embassy host once again presented a gift of Sacred Legacy, a beautiful book of Edward Curtis photographs for which I had written the Afterword. Chief Assis Gomes and other Huni Kuin were interested in seeing Curtis’s images of their North American relatives.

I noticed that many of the Huni Kuin were recording the various speeches on their smart phones, a wonderful example of technology preserving traditional ways. I had permission to film and also recorded much of the day.

The medicine man gave us each a wonderful gift — eye drops that he extracted from a medicinal plant that felt lovely and clarifying.


The Huni Kuin have only had protected land since 1972, and they are trying hard to reforest the parts of their reserve that were burned down by ranchers. They asked Marcos, John Matel from the American Embassy, and me to each plant a tree. This was really the most moving moment of the day for me.


After lunch, the women gave a demonstration of their wonderful weaving techniques. After watching them, I looked closely at all the fabulously colorful designs they had woven into headbands, bracelets, necklaces, ankle bracelets, earrings, and clothing, all so intricate and beautiful.


The Huni Kuin went all out to welcome us with many long and eloquent speeches and gifts. They also received a huge Mercedes truck as a gift from an NGO to help them become more self-sustaining economically, a problem since much of their land base was burned out and taken over by ranchers. There was lots of ceremony around the receiving of the truck, and I think we were undeserving beneficiaries of their gratitude for this.


In the late afternoon, Angelina Smid and I joined in a fast-paced dance that was so much like the one that the Wampanoag do at the end of We Still Live Here — a line that snakes around and in on itself.


We were all exhausted at this point, which was around 6pm, the time we were scheduled to leave, but as it turned out the trucks had all disappeared — apparently the drivers had decided to give some of the Huni Kuin a ride somewhere. We waited and waited, nada. Finally Marcos reached one of them by cell phone, and it turned out they were stuck in the thick mire about half a mile away. We slogged through the mud, which caked our shoes about 2” thick, and got to the trucks around 7pm for our 6 hour drive back to Rio Branco.


It had been such an amazing and moving day that I didn’t mind the rough road or the long drive one bit.

A filmmaker cannot ask for more than this! Thanks so much to the American Film Showcase for choosing We Still Live Here, and to everyone at the American Embassy in Brazil for organizing such a magnificent, wide-ranging and enlightening journey.

For those of you who read this far, thank you for taking this wonderful trip with me!

Guest Blog by Cultural Survival Endangered Languages Program summer intern Laura Garbes

June 7, 2012 - 12:39 PM | by Our Mother Tongues

Great Resources for Learning about Native Language Revitalization


As a new CS intern, I’ve watched several films that gave me a helpful background on issues of Indigenous rights and language revitalization efforts both in the US and abroad. Though the films differ in content—from community radio efforts in Guatemala to U.S. tribal efforts in immersion schooling for children—the basic feelings of urgency to revitalize languages in jeopardy transcend individual situations. These documentaries are great starting points for any individuals curious about the state of Native languages around the globe today. The resources also outline what exactly language revitalization is and why it is so important for Natives and non-natives alike. I’ve provided a list below of these resources, suitable for anyone looking to expand their knowledge on native languages and their importance in our world today.


1.  WHY SAVE A LANGUAGE? Directed by Sally Thompson and produced by University of Montana’s Regional Learning Project


This documentary, about a half hour in length, provides an overview of language revitalization, incorporating citizens from several tribes who each give their own perspective on why language revitalization is crucial for their respective tribes and in general. Despite the disparate situations facing each tribe, there are several common sentiments shared inter-tribally. The groups encountered in these videos all agree that languages shape and reflect cultural identity; thus, to know a language is, in a way, to have ownership of an experience, of a different reality. It is a blueprint for thinking that influences and shapes how we see and interact with the world around us.


What’s more, the documentary calls to mind and challenges views of those that feel as though English is the language of patriotism, and that it asserts one’s identity as an American. A tribal member made the point that this “speak English or leave” sentiment common in the narrative of US history is especially invalid in the case of Native Americans and their tribal languages, begging the question, to where would these tribes leave, considering the Americas is the origin point of their languages? In reality, when compared to tribal languages, English is actually the foreign language later introduced to the region. When taking this perspective, we can see that tribal languages, many of which are endangered, deserve special reverence as original languages of the Americas.


One tribal member interviewed in the documentary stressed the invaluable wisdom contained within each language. He laments the loss of linguistic diversity with an apt comparison to a burning library, remarking, “Intelligent people don’t burn down libraries.” Yet, what we are doing in allowing languages to die out is essentially watching repositories of knowledge quickly disappear from our generation’s grasp. These shared sentiments are consistent throughout the following region-specific films.


2.  WE STILL LIVE HERE: Âs Nutayuneân from Makepeace Productions, produced with the assistance of Cultural Survival’s Endangered Languages Program


Director Anne Makepeace’s documentary explores the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project in particular. The Wampanoag case is special because over a century had gone by without any speakers of the Wampanoag language before any language revitalization efforts took place. Yet, the WLRP owes much success to a singular determination among the Wampanoag Nation’s citizens in Massachusetts. Tribal members reflecting on the project’s founding recall that, while they were still in the deliberation stages, there were no people on the committee saying “no, don't bother.” All were interested, making possible all the successful efforts in Mashpee, MA, like the daily master-apprentice program, weekly community-based classes, summer youth camps, and an annual three-day language immersion camp for families.


Jessie Littledoe, who spearheaded the Wampanoag language revitalization efforts, explains specifically how their tribal language is a repository of the wisdom of their elders. For instance, the structure of the language divides animate and inanimate nouns. Within this system, the moon was labeled animate and the sun inanimate; thus, it can be inferred that the Wampanoag peoples, upon development of their language, had a high grasp of astronomical principles. In addition, the unique point of view that speaking a particular language provides is beautifully illustrated in the Wampanoag expression of losing their land rights. The literal translation of a person losing land rights is “I fall down,” as in, to fall off your feet and have no ground under you. This is an idiomatic expression that correlates with the fact that, seeing as there were no horses or carriages in the pre-Columbian era, their feet never left the ground, in the literal sense. The containment of this subtle information within a single phrase is something that would be lost in translation without the language itself existing in spoken form today. Thus, the revival of the language was a revival of the culture as well as its nuances.


3.  A short film on the Sauk language revitalization project, Kîmâchipena: Let’s Come Together from the Sauk Language Department and filmmaker Jenni Monet


Another specific language project documentary is Kîmâchipena: Let’s Come Together, which outlines the language revitalization efforts of the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma to revive Sauk. Their efforts to pilot a preschool immersion classroom have been successful because of the collective will of the Sauk people, who all wish to talk Sauk because the language that belongs to their people. Like the other revitalization projects of its kind, their community-based language work has brought with it an assertion of identity, to fight against the assimilation that dissolves their own cultural norms.


The video introduces Sauk members of all ages, each holding up a sign about their connection to Sauk. There were some that, in their words, asserted, “I talk Sauk.” But for the most part, the members made declarations of a desire to learn “I want to talk Sauk,” “English is not my language,” or “I want to speak my language.” The solidarity among age groups and between different fluency levels of Sauk is a manifestation of the will needed to fuel an undertaking as ambitious as this community’s project. It speaks to the truth that strong community support and participation is necessary in carrying out any project as extensive as preserving or revitalizing an entire language. The Sauk language film is powerful because the English language only appears as subtitles or on signs, but is never spoken. Watch the film at TalkSauk.com


4.  To learn about the Euchee (Yuchi) Language Project watch the short film sôKAnAnô: We Are Still Here online at yuchilanguage.org


The Euchee/ Yuchi Language Project outlined in sôKAnAnô: We Are Still Here is unique in that the language is an isolate and has no linguistic relatives, making it more difficult to recover lost words as has been done in the case of the Wampanoag language. The fact that there is just one Native male speaker and a handful of other Yuchi speakers left makes the call to revive the language all the more time-sensitive. It is particularly striking to listen to the last first-language male speaker of Yuchi express his earnest desire to pass on his language. His commentary provides a very concrete example of the imminent extinction of a language if no action is taken.


5.  Democratizando la Palabra: la Radio Comunitaria en Guatemala (Voices of Democracy: Community Radio in Guatemala)


The final video I watched during orientation was created by Cultural Survival, Democratizando la Palabra: la Radio Comunitaria en Guatemala (Voices of Democracy: Community Radio in Guatemala). The video explains the Guatemalan Community Radio Project, one of CS’s main programs. It highlights the importance of community radio in Guatemala in fostering linguistic diversity, because local radio stations are the only ones that broadcast in Indigenous languages, which are community-specific. The video then points out all efforts by the Guatemalan government to stifle this form of free speech. The video lends an international perspective on the rights of linguistic minorities, and helps demonstrate that the struggles are universal and not just limited to a single country or region. To learn more about the project visit the CS Community Radio Project online.


There is much to be learned from each and every Native language. With the danger of their extinction, we are also in danger of losing the capability to draw from these fountains of wisdom. By providing the voices of tribal members and leaders, these five videos give informed perspectives from those who have experienced the trials, tribulations, and successes of revitalization efforts firsthand. It is by no means an exhaustive list of resources on Native language revitalization, but I hope this list of films will give you some background as well as whet your curiosity on the topic, as it did mine.

This website was produced by Makepeace Productions in partnership with Cultural Survival and Interactive Knowledge
with funding from the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).
©2011 Makepeace LLC