students study language that was once nearly extinct
class of 22 high school students is learning how to speak a language
that nearly went extinct.
estimated there are about 10 fluent speakers of Yurok, the native
language of the tribe.
is the first year the language is being taught at Del Norte High
years, we have been trying to get a class at Del Norte High School,"
said the instructor, Barbara McQuillen.
McQuillen, education director for the Yurok Tribe and brother to
Barbara, used the words "historical" and "monumental" to describe
the introduction of this class to DNHS.
was not long ago that Yuroks were taken from their homes and sent
to boarding schools in an attempt to strip them of their language
and culture, Jim McQuillen said.
come full circle," he said. "This lends a lot of hope to the cultural
continuation of the Yurok people."
has waited many years to see Yurok offered at DNHS. As a parent,
he is proud that at least his youngest child, a senior this year,
will be able to take the class.
River Early College of the Redwoods teaches Yurok, as do high schools
in Humboldt County. Tolowa 1 and 2 have been taught at DNHS for
2 is in line to start next fall.
engaged in school
After the passage of a recent state bill, tribes in California can
test their members on their language proficiency and put them on
the fast-track to be credentialed to teach that language.
speakers in total have been recommended for a teaching credential,
Jim McQuillen said, including his sister.
school district has wanted to offer Yurok language classes at the
high school, said Superintendent Jan Moorehouse, but there were
no credentialed teachers who could speak Yurok.
world is losing many of its indigenous languages, she said. Offering
this class to high-schoolers will help efforts to preserve the language,
but also show students that they can "have success in both worlds"
of school and their culture.
think this will help students who have a Yurok heritage to stay
engaged with school," Moorehouse said.
student told Barbara McQuillen the first-period class is the reason
he gets up and comes to school.
approved Jim McQuillen said this should happen any day now
Yurok will count toward the University of California's and
California State University's world language prerequisites.
the basics down
1 is open to all students and counts as an elective.
are learning basic vocabulary and how to introduce themselves, said
Barbara McQuillen, a language teacher for the tribe.
a recent class, she explained to the students how to make Yurok
don't make plurals in Yurok by adding a 'S,'" she said. "That's
class wrapped up that day's lesson with a vocabulary game.
held up flash cards and two students tried to be the first to say
the correct Yurok word for the picture, such as "wenchokws" (woman)
and "meweemor" (old man).
class also discusses Yurok culture. Students chose a Yurok name
for themselves that is "culturally appropriate," McQuillen said.
are learning how to say what they're feeling, such as "I'm hungry,"
as well as words for people, food and animals.
uses books, flash cards and other instructional materials from the
Yurok Tribe Language Program in the class.
tribe and UC-Berkeley developed a dictionary that has Yurok to English
and English to Yurok translations. The dictionary is available online
where anyone can hear how the word is pronounced.
also learning," McQuillen said. "I learn something new every day."
a dead language
the 1950s, it was predicted that the Yurok language would be extinct
by 1999 because there would be no speakers left, Barbara McQuillen
proved that wrong," she said.
and Barbara McQuillen's grandmother was a native Yurok speaker,
who like many Yuroks, she was forced from their homes to attend
boarding schools. In these schools, Yuroks were forbidden to speak
experience was the "most devastating to the language," Barbara McQuillen
sent to the boarding schools came home afraid to speak the language,
she said. When she was young, McQuillen said elders would speak
in Yurok when they didn't want anyone to know what they were saying.
would say words or phrases when asked, but it took many years for
them to be comfortable speaking Yurok again, she said.
of that generation wanted their children to be able to speak and
write English so they could be successful as adults, she said. Years
ago, Yuroks had been tricked into giving land away because they
didn't know English, McQuillen said, and they wanted to prevent
that from happening again.
tribe has been on an aggressive mission for the last 15 years to
restore and revive our language," Jim McQuillen said.
are about 100 adults learning the language, he said, and many tribal
members returning from college are interested in learning the language.
McQuillen heard Yurok words and phrases growing up, but wasn't taught
1999, she became a master apprentice in a program to keep Yurok
alive and was paired with her mother to learn the language.
that time there were only about 15 speakers, she said. The tribe
tried to record as many of their voices as possible, she said.
there are maybe only 10 fluent speakers, she said, and they are
80 or older.
said she stresses the small numbers of fluent speakers left to her
have the opportunity to make sure the language doesn't die," she
McQuillen said the next goal is to offer Yurok language classes
in middle school grades.
building the scaffolding for kids to learn it earlier," he said.
enrolled in the tribe's Head Start program learn Yurok words. There
are also evening classes in Crescent City, Klamath, Weitchpec and
Arcata for anyone interested in learning Yurok.
not reasonable to ask young people to also go to school in the evening,
McQuillen said. That's why it was important to offer it in school.
the class is also "an opportunity for anyone to receive this enrichment,"
tribe would like to one day have Yurok language classes from pre-school
to 12th grade, Barbara McQuillen said.
on our way to developing fluent speakers," she said.
able to speak Yurok is something young people can take "out of the
classroom and into the community," she said.
else but the North Coast can native and non-native people learn
to speak Yurok, Jim McQuillen said.
took many years to get to the point where tribal members know the
language and can teach it to other people, McQuillen said.
work has also prevented Yurok from being an endangered language.
Yurok 1 class "is a statement (DNHS) is willing to meet the needs
of a diverse community," McQuillen said. "There are other cultures
that are alive and well in the county."
just a reason to celebrate," he said. "Our hearts are soaring."
The Yurok Tribe is currently the largest Tribe
in California, with more than 5,000 enrolled members. The Tribe
provides numerous services to the local community and membership
with its more than 200 employees. The Tribes major initiatives
include: the Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act, dam removal, natural resources
protection, sustainable economic development enterprises and land