Quechan Tribe fights to keep native language alive
YUMA, Ariz – San Pasqual High freshmen dance and sing to a traditional Quechan song. It’s an informal lesson of their culture that one teacher, Mr. Faron Owl, integrates between class. “I’d say within the last 15 years there’s been a good build up of language. Singing songs, learning the customs learning the traditions. So it’s picked up in the last few years,” said Owl.
But the songs are just one step to learning the language. As it stands today, there is a huge gap between elders, teens and even adults in the tribe who speak Quechan.
According to an MIT indigenous language report, the reality is Quechan is one of 74 native languages across the nation on the brink of extinction.
The Quechan tribe’s population is made up of less than 2,500 people. Less than 100 are estimated to speak their native tongue. To keep the language alive, a grant is awarded last year by the Native American Administration.
Elder and Language Preservation Coordinator, Barbara Levy, helped initiate a language preservation program with the money. “To try to get the youth to come back and pick up the language to continue on speaking and living and teaching the young ones so that the language continues to live and never die. We don’t want our language to die ,” said Levy.
One phase of the program has Quechan pre-school students learning the language early on as a daily activity. They learn the basics like colors and numbers. The other, has mentors who are fluent tutor volunteers that will continue their studies and later become teachers themselves.
One future teacher-in-training, Milson Jose said,”We look forward to being able to have full conversations in Quechan within a couple of months.”
For now only time will tell.