For several years the Yuchi Language Project, a partner of Running Strong for American Indian Youth®, has been working to preserve the Yuchi language. Described by The Washington Post in 2007 as being “on the brink of extinction,” there were only four fluent Yuchi speakers by 2013 – today that number is down to three.
Through our partnership this “language isolate,” meaning that it is not known to be related to any other language, is being preserved for future generations. Through the Yuchi Language Project in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, children ages 3 to 18 are now learning that language in an immersion program that was forbidden in government boarding schools generations ago.
Executive director Richard Grounds, Ph.D., tells us that “We are working feverishly against the clock to keep alive our unique Yuchi language by linking our youth with the remaining Elder speakers who are all in their 90s now. Our language is critical to our tribal ceremonies and all our traditional knowledge about medicines, history and cultural practices. By connecting our youth to their culture through the language they become stronger and more grounded in their identity as Native youth.”
Richard explains that the Yuchi Language Project is itself the embodiment of the vision of Yuchi Elders “as we work to breathe new life into the Yuchi language and culture.”
The program conducts a series of language classes including a daily afterschool language immersion program for children and youth, a master-apprentice program for young adults and instructors, as well as a community language program in the evenings.
“The most important thrust of the Yuchi Language Project is to work with our Yuchi Elders who are the carriers of our rich traditions and the fullness of our unique language,” said Richard. “We believe the greatest challenge facing the Yuchi community is keeping alive our unique language for future generations.”
The Yuchi Language Project’s most important strength is its successful work in producing new speakers of the Yuchi language, having produced a dozen speakers who are competent to teach the language and who are active in bringing the language back into three active Yuchi ceremonial grounds.
“We have a clear understanding of what it takes to grow new, young speakers as we bring together Elders and youth,” he said.
To learn more about the Yuchi Language Project click here. To watch the short documentary on the Yuchi language sôKAnAnô: We Are Still Here, please click here.