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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Apps And Games Help Preserve Chukchansi Language
by Sharon Martin - The Fresno Bee

Holly Wyatt is surrounded by a dozen middle and high school students, all Chukchansi tribal members, with their eyes glued to the screen of a tablet, smartphone or computer. She doesn't see mere students — she sees the next generation of Chukchansi speakers.

It's been 40 years since Wyatt has spoken her native Chukchansi language. Now, she is ready to teach younger generations the words her grandmother taught her.

"The language is fading fast," Wyatt said.

Wyatt and the students were at Fresno State on Thursday and Friday to help create educational apps that teach the Chukchansi language. The students are creating the artwork and some programming for the apps, and Wyatt is providing the voice translation into Chukchansi.

"One of the projects we've wanted to do is increase Chukchansi literacy," said Kim Lawhon, the education coordinator of the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians.

Lawhon is a Chukchansi tribal member and also teaches at Coarsegold Elementary. Some of her students at Coarsegold created artwork to aid the project.

The apps aim to teach children and adults the Chukchansi language in the style of an e-book. The stories are Chukchansi folklores originally published in English in 1944. Now, the tribe is translating the stories back into Chukchansi and using children's artwork to illustrate them.

The group plans to create 10 apps within the next two to three weeks.

One storybook app, Stinkbug, already is available for download. The app features artwork created in May by Fresno State students paired with Wyatt narrating the story in Chukchansi.

Behind the app development is Canadian-based Ogoki Learning Systems, which specializes in creating educational language apps for tribes nationwide.

Darrick Baxter, president of Ogoki Learning Systems, travels around North America helping tribes teach their native languages to younger generations.

"I want to see different tribes revitalizing and using their language again," Baxter said. "That's why I do this."

Baxter said creating apps is the most effective way to engage young people like the Chukchansi students to learn their native language.

"I couldn't believe how excited the kids were," Baxter said.

Audrey Hammond, 16, is a Chukchansi who attends Evergreen Continuation High School in Oakhurst. Hammond says she knows more Japanese than Chukchansi and wants to change that by learning the language her ancestors spoke.

"I hope to one day be fluent in the language," she said. "My heritage makes me who I am."

Hammond spent the day creating sound effects for mobile games that, along with the educational language apps, also will be available for download in Apple's App Store and in the Google Play store.

The games feature characters who speak Chukchansi, which expose children to the language, Baxter said.

With very few fluent Chukchansi speakers remaining, the tribe hopes the apps will preserve the language in a new generation.

"Hopefully, they all become fluent speakers one day," Wyatt said.

Chukchansi Youth Tech Camp is creating a free app at Fresno State which uses the Chukchansi language spoken to tell traditional stories for children. (video: Eric Paul Zamora - The Fresno Bee). To view the video, click here

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