Dying Native languages get new life in northern Arizona

Arizona’s Family | July 1, 2023

CAMP VERDE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) – In Camp Verde on Friday, advocates announced a big step toward preserving two tribal languages at risk of being lost to history. There are just a few people left who learned the Yavapai and Apache languages from birth. But with the help of a nonprofit, a tribal leader unveiled a new linguistic database and other tools.

“Without the language, you know, there will be no more of us,” said Yavapai-Apache Nation vice chairman Ricardo Pacheco. Community members in Camp Verde’s Yavapai-Apache Nation came together on Friday morning to unveil what they say is the first step in restoring heritage lost through years of assimilation by the United States. “It gives them a cultural identity. Through the language, they know who they are and in a way, it kind of places you where you are supposed to be,” said Yavapai-Apache Nation elder Vincent Randall.

Arizona’s very first Yavapai and Apache language dictionaries were presented with the celebration of culture through song and dance. Years of translation work with the nonprofit called The Language Conservancy has been revealed, marking what organizers say is a new beginning for Indigenous culture and tradition. “This is the last generation of first language speakers in both of these languages. They have an average speaker age of 75 or older so it is really important to be able to transfer this language from those last speakers to that next generation,” said The Language Conservancy CEO Wil Meya.

Organizers were also eager to display various children’s books written in native tongues. They say the next stop beyond the dictionaries is to begin education on the language and develop it back into the mainstream Yavapai-Apache culture. The Language Conservancy hopes to work on online courses and e-learning platforms in the following years. Both dictionaries are available online here or even on your app store.

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