Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival Workshop at Barona
By Roy Cook

Leanne Hinton, PhD Linguistics professor from Berkley, opens the Saturday, June 7, 2003, afternoon session. The meeting is held in the Barona tribal council chamber next to the Barona Museum. The days have been overcast and very much what is described in San Diego as June gloom. Inside the room it is bright and hot. Illumination, brilliance and points of light shine in the brown faces all around the tables. This is a powerful group of dedicated individuals, Yuman, Cahuilla, Serrano, Tule River, and other tribes, committed to the survival of tribal languages.

The Master – Apprentice language learning program is evaluating the conversational proficiency of the language learner and perhaps sensing the level of repetition burnout that might threaten the “master’ native speakers. From the time of European contact, there were almost 100 languages spoken in California alone over half are no longer heard. All are threatened; many only have a handful of speakers left. The challenge is great but the rewards are evident and powerful. It feels real good to be here.

Kasaw! It is time to eat.

A delightful session of exercises in non- verbal communication is introduced. Cards with instructions are distributed and one person must convince the next to do something involving a task or movement. Some are humorous. Others are instructive and to the point. All learn the possibilities and enjoy the antics of the ones receiving the instructions. Great fun! Ernie Siva from Morongo and Preston Arroweed, from Quechan, took their instructor roles with great delight. It is so empowering to experience traditional education even if the model is standard textbook. “The trick is to do things as you are learning your language.” Said Leanne Hinton, “Total Physical Response basic premise involves movement, as we repeat the same movement we recall the language associated with that motion.” Drills continued that would require someone to act or do something active. Jane Dumas and Lee Acebado, M & A, are sitting together and next to me as I receive a card with instructions to get some one to bring me a cup of coffee. Jane smiles as Lee returns with a hot cup of coffee for me. There are more smiles and laughter all around the room. It is such a delight to be in a learning environment that is not stressful or authoritarian.

Cheryl Hinton, curator of the Barona Museum, is moving around the room smoozing and enjoying the diversity of the workshop participants. There are attendees from Barona and out of the state and even some from Baja. The survival of Tribal language is a compelling reason to participate and learn new techniques. Cheryl escorts a break out session over to the museum. Instructions continue in smaller groups. This allows for more participation and involvement. The intensity is heightened; you can almost feel and smell the electricity in the air. Folks need to step outside, from time to time, to feel the cool Barona breeze on their face. It is exciting.

Later in the afternoon Leanne reviews steps to organize a language program in tribal communities. She calls upon the participants to relate their individual experiences in California and Arizona. It is good to see Richard Bugbee, Luiseno, he is a board member of the Advocates. He arranged the AICLS training at Barona. Mariana Drummond, Director of the program is also here. To contact the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival, write AICLS, 1215 66th St. Berkeley, CA 94702 (510) 655-8770. Also it is nice to see, Karen Vigneault, Ipai, as she is filming all the sessions for the AICLS archives.

Finally, it is time for AICLS board member Jon Meza Cuero, Tipai, to present Nymie/Wilcat songs to the group remaining. Jon related his background as a singer and native speaker. He spoke in Tipai, Mexican/Spanish and English. He introduced his long time M/A student Stan Rodriguez, Ipai and two other students, Ben Nance and Roy Cook, Opata/Osage. I point out the value of learning the language through song. Proper pronunciation of words and reinforcement of learning is a constant benefit each time the song is sung.

Jon leads a hot set of Wildcat songs that get many listeners moving and tapping their feet. With smiles all around the Saturday afternoon session is brought to an end. We break for dinner and perhaps stories or more songs later in the evening or tomorrow at the final AICLS session. Mehan.
Roy Cook: writer, public relations, speaker
Opata/Osage-Mazopioye Wichasha
WebMaster: Ben Nance