Yuchi Language Project
Kale Bearpaw, 4, and Alayna Brown, 5, hold pet wheels they made in the language immersion class. The text reads: “What kind of pet do you have?”

Racing to Save the Yuchi Language

Alysa Landry
3/28/14

The Yuchi Tribe of Oklahoma is racing against time to preserve its Native language.

Fifteen years ago, individuals started the Yuchi Language Project, a grassroots community organization charged with reviving the language and culture by tapping into the elders’ knowledge.

Today, only four Native speakers remain, said Richard Grounds, executive director of the Yuchi Language Project and a former research professor at the University of Tulsa. An estimated 2,400 people belong to the Yuchi tribe (also known as Euchee), which is located in Sapulpa, Oklahoma.

“If you think about that in numbers, we’re talking about .002 percent of the population as first-language speakers,” Grounds said. “That’s a very small portion of the population.”

The youngest of those first-language speakers is 89, which means time is running out. The Yuchi language is considered an isolate, or unrelated to any other language in the world. If the tribe wants to preserve it—and the cultural nuances that come with it—now is the time, Grounds said.

Elder Mary Watashe teaches students how to save seeds and cook pumpkin, a traditional dish. (Yuchi Language Project)

“Our great task is to try to get the elders’ knowledge, their innate appreciation for the language, culture and history,” he said. “In some ways, they embody the history. They literally have lived our culture for 100 years.”

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