New York Times
This screen capture shows Marie Wilcox speaking Wukchumni.

Video: Last Fluent Wukchumni Speaker Fights to Save Her Language


A recent short documentary by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee for the New York Times profiles Marie Wilcox, of the Wukchumni, a Yokuts Tribe native to Central California.

Wilcox, who was born on Thanksgiving Day in 1933, grew up speaking mostly Wukchumni.

“I left my Indian language behind when my grandma died,” she says in the video. “I didn’t speak the language anymore until my sisters started to teach the kids. Hearing the girls trying to speak their language again made me want to learn again, and I started remembering.”

Her daughter, Jennifer Malone, explains how Wilcox would write words on whatever scraps of paper she had lying around.

“I was very surprised that she could remember all that,” Malone says in the vide. “She just started writing down her words on envelopes and papers.”

Wilcox gathered those scraps of paper up and started typing them slowly into a computer to create a Wukchumni dictionary. It took Wilcox and Malone about seven years to complete the dictionary. Now, Wilcox’s great-grandson, Donovan Treglown, is helping her record the dictionary.

Even Wilcox isn’t sure what the future holds for her language.

“I’m uncertain about my language and who wants to keep it alive, just a few—it’s sad,” she says. “It seems weird that I am the last one. It’ll just be gone one of these days maybe, I don’t know.”

But she isn’t alone, the tribe uses the dictionary Wilcox and her daughter created for weekly language classes.

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Melinda Cloutier
Melinda Cloutier
Submitted by Melinda Cloutier on
This is beautiful!!! My dad was Ojibwe and although he grew up on the reservation my siblings and I were raised as Native American in a "white man's" world. He taught us what Ojibwe he could remember and seeing this video brings back the memories of my dad teaching us Ojibwe! Beautiful and this made my day! Thank you!!!

Rachel Ash
Rachel Ash
Submitted by Rachel Ash on
Have you heard of Evan Gardner and his language program? He created it to save dying languages and has worked with several Native American tribes to not only learn their languages but to perpetuate the learning of the language and create other teachers of the language in the tribes. I'm linking him here: and I really recommend anyone interested get in touch with him.

StrongDog's picture
Submitted by StrongDog on
What a great story...and what an awesome Elder. More than anything else this story shows the sterling beauty, power, grace and value of American Indian elders. What a beautiful and fine lady, such a great smile. Seeing how this fine woman never gives up, how she thinks ahead and how she has embraced new things, like her computer, is incredible and inspiring. On another note, The login page you have here is really terrible.Bad web page design for such an important web site is nearly inexcusable. You guys need to step up here....think like this Elder.