Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 19, 2001 - Issue 36



Yavapai Survived Against Great Odds


 by Brenda Norrell Indian Country Today Staff


Photo: Language conference 'Treasures' Phoebe Kline, Kathaleen Kansea and Joyce Stern, Mescalero Apache, helped participants understand the importance of preserving Native languages

TUCSON, Ariz. - They were murdered by the Cavalry's poisoned sugar. Those who survived were marched to San Carlos. When they danced in ceremonies, the soldiers thought they were performing the Ghost Dance.

"They killed a lot of Yavapai. We are an endangered species," Katherine Marquez, Camp Verde Yavapai cultural preservation director, told the 10th annual Keepers of the Treasures conference.

In government boarding schools in the 1900s, Yavapai were locked in closets and chained to their beds for speaking their language.

"Everyday our children were taken away to boarding school. They were stripped and they were whipped. There was a lot of torture."

Many died of poison, torture and broken hearts. But the elders who survived had a dream - to bring back their language to their people.

Marquez worked with three of those Yavapai elders. Their first effort was to teach beading classes. Then, one by one, the three women died.

"It was real hard for me to go back and teach the children because I was by myself."

Then another hero rose up.

Robert Chavez, 15-year-old Apache-Mexican, working for the Job Training Partnership Act program, became one of the first rescuers of the Yavapai language.

"He fell in love with one of the elders. He fell in love with the language and culture," Marquez said.

Chavez began writing down the language, just the way he heard it. And he became a bird basket maker.

"It was really difficult," Marquez said, describing the process of stripping the willow for basket-making.

Marquez said today Yavapai elders are passing quickly. But when she becomes discouraged, she remembers advice she was given.

"Children are going to dream on the songs. The children are going to bring back the history."

Now, Yavapai plan immersion language programs for schools and day camps, where only Yavapai is spoken.

"Language is the key. There is nothing else," she said.

Ted Vaughn, Prescott Yavapai, said, "Without language you are nothing.

"We were forbidden to speak our language. They forbade us to practice our culture.

"We want it back!" Vaughn said of the Yavapai language whose root is Yumen, like Havasupai, Hualapai, Colorado River Indian Tribes and others.

In recent years, Camp Verde, Fort McDowell and Prescott Yavapai reconnected with Pai Pai relatives in Baja California, Mexico, where land loss and murders in a region of drug trafficking are devastating the people.

Yavapai in Arizona funded a new water system for Pai Pai. Each Christmas, Yavapai travel to Pai Pai villages, south of San Diego, Calif., with food, gifts and baskets for the elderly.

Before her death from diabetes, Dixie Davis, Yavapai at Fort McDowell, said Yavapai in the United States are gaining much more than they are giving to their relatives to the south. Davis, who had drying screens for wild foods on her porch, said the Pai Pai help Yavapai recover language, songs, dances and traditional ways of preparing foods.

Davis, Vaughn and Marquez worked together, rescuing their language from extinction during the last three decades. They wrote down their language phonetically, the way they heard it, and taped elders speaking words never before written down.

Sharing what they learned and knew, they created educational materials for preschoolers and taught adults in night classes and summer programs.

Marquez says today immersion in the language and culture is the only way to keep it alive.

"You have to think in Indian."

Encouraging American Indians gathered from across the nation to keep their Native languages alive, she said, "There is no reason to defend yourselves.

"In developing the language, never ask for permission, never debate the issue."

Brenda Norrell reports from the Southwest. She can be reached at (520) 490-8558 or by e-mail

Yavapai-Apache Nation




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