Preservation of language

Language advisors, Lynda D’Wolf and Pearl Casias discuss the future of the Ute language and strategies for preserving it for future generations under the direction of Southern Ute Cultural Director, Edward Box III (center) at the Southern Ute Museum, Thursday, June 1.
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum

“The bottom line is this — I personally don’t want the language to die,” Southern Ute elder Lynda D’Wolf said. Southern Ute Chairman Clement J. Frost passed a resolution in 2014 supporting the preservation of the Ute language. The Southern Ute Tribe and a number of elders are using this as a call to action.

“From the language comes the traditions, customs, the songs, it defines the people,” said former Chairwoman Pearl Casias. “It identifies who we are,” added Southern Ute Culture Department Director Edward Box III.

The Tribe’s Culture Department mission statement reads as follows: “The Southern Ute Culture department will revitalize, promote, sustain and document the culture, language and history in a manner that honors the past generations, ensures a healthy and balanced tribal community, utilizes the advice of the elders and educates the general public in a manner that serves tribal interests.”

“We need people that speak Ute to push,” Lynda D’Wolf said. “We’re here if your interested, we’re open to ideas, please come.” The language advisors meet Tues, Weds and Thurs of each week at the Southern Ute Museum. “I grew up in a traditional home speaking Ute, my children speak Ute,” Lynda D’Wolf said.

The ideal process is immersion,” Casias said. “that’s how we learned the Ute language, though immersion.”

Working together since 2013, the language advisors have expanded on the current Ute dictionary created by Thomas Givon. The result of a collaboration by Vida Peabody, Mary Inez Cloud and Pearl Casias is a completely new dictionary.

“We know others have knowledge,” D’Wolf said. “We want to enhance our Southern Ute Tribe, rather than borrow materials from our sister tribes.”

The latest efforts for creating language materials and incorporating them into the local schools started in 2015, with Pearl Casias and Lynda D’Wolf working together alongside Elise Redd. “We wanted to create teaching tools to assist those that want to learn,” Casias said. The focus of the group is to build both digital and physical language materials. A mobile app for smartphones is at the top of the list. The app would be designed to incorporate updates as new material was introduced.

“The focus of the app is on the Ute language sentence structure,” Lynda D’Wolf said. Audio CDs, pamphlets, coloring books, puzzles, and a 2018 calendar are all on the list of materials being discussed and created by the Southern Ute elders who currently serve as language advisors. Casias views her specialty as genealogy. “I wanted my children to know what their ancestry was,” Casias said. For Casias, history, genealogy and language are intrinsically tied together in the Ute culture.

The idea for the audio tools is to have conversational Ute available, which helps to familiarize students with the way that the Ute language sounds. Pronunciation is one of the key factors for understanding and speaking a foreign, or First Nation language such as Ute or Diné. “These materials will be available to the membership,” Box said, “Starting with the youth.”

Box works as a liaison between elders and the Ignacio School District.

Standard foreign language credits will be given to students at Ignacio High School who choose to take the Ute language courses. “The Culture Department, and the elders want to be part of that,” Box said.

“We are on that edge, we didn’t want to lose these traditions,” D’Wolf said. “Ute language was a priority for survival of the Ute culture.”

The Culture Department is planning a Tri-Ute language conference for later in the year. One of their goals will be sharing how the Southern Ute Tribe is addressing the preservation of the Ute language for future generations.

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