Chukchansi language to be preserved with grant

FRESNO, Calif.

One Central California tribe is trying to change that.

It's said that language is a window to one's culture, family and religion.

On Monday the native tongue of one of the valley's most treasured tribes will be forever preserved thanks to a $1 million donation from the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians to Fresno State's Department of Linguistics.

"I think it's great, I think it's great, because we've been looking forward to this for a long time," Chukchansi native speaker Jane Wyatt said.

Jane and Holly Wyatt are among two of only a handful of tribal members who can speak the language fluently.

"With my grandmother who raised us, that's what we spoke around the house and that's how I learned it," Wyatt said.

They say this gift will support the tribe's efforts in keeping the language alive.

"We're going to get the dictionary together and do it piece by piece," Wyatt said.

Until now, the language has never existed on paper, but over the last three years, Fresno State faculty and students have worked with native speakers to devise a writing system and start the process of developing a Chukchansi dictionary and grammar.

"And we knew we had to wait patiently and establish trust in that relationship because for linguists it's a dream to work with an endangered language and prevent it, preserve it and revitalize it," Dr. Vida Samiian, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities said.

According to Dr. Vida Samiian, this grant from the Picayune Rancheria gives the college the resources it needs to properly document the language and bring it back into social and ritual use for future generations to be proud of.

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