Utes gather to speak the language

Ute Indian Tribal elder, May Mountain discussed Ute bands and demonstrated how she helps teach the Ute language on the Uinath and Ouray Reservation.
The Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Elder Committee put on a presentation teaching colors, body parts and kinships.
Southern Ute tribal elders Denise Thompson and Benda Watts play Ute bingo during the ‘Lets All Wake Up and Speak Ute” gathering Friday, July 31.
Southern Ute tribal elder, Arlene Millich was moderator for the gathering and discussed how the group she is apart of, Nùu – waygay-rumu – 2011 (Ute Speakers 2011) has been attending classes regularly with Tom Givon.
Sacha Smith | The Southern Ute Drum
Sacha Smith | The Southern Ute Drum
Sacha Smith | The Southern Ute Drum
Sacha Smith | The Southern Ute Drum

Preserving the Ute Language has proven to be a top priority for the members of the three Ute Tribes: Southern Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and the Ute Indian Tribes. The language is being lost. Preserving the language is not an easy task and will be a challenge for the fluent speakers, younger generations and tribal governments to conquer.

Nùu – waygay-rumu – 2011 (Ute Speakers 2011) is a group of Southern Ute tribal members that have been learning Ute from Tom Givon since 2011. The group, in collaboration with the Culture Department, held the first ever; Tavu’ni-kya-vaa-chi-rawi-Nana-ma Nùu-wáygya-vaachi, “Let’s All Wake Up and Speak Ute” get together Friday, July 31 at the Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum.

In what was called a “surprisingly good turn out,” last Friday’s event had over 80 participants from all three sister tribes. Those in attendance ranged from fluent speakers, to those who could understand it, to beginning speakers, who understand little at all.

“I think it went fantastically, we didn’t anticipate such a big gathering for the first year,” tribal elder and member of the Ute Speakers 2011 group, Arlene Millich said.

The agenda included discussions on the language and the different ways it is being taught and learned. Everyone learns differently, so how you choose to learn the language is up to the person, Millich said.

Another point brought up at the gathering was the ones trying to learn need support, rather than negativity. If a new speaker mispronounces a word or phrase they should not be made fun of because it’s discouraging, Millich said.

Presenters got up and demonstrated how they are teaching the language and shared some fun activities to engage the youth.

Betty Howe, Ute Mountain Ute, got up and sang some songs in Ute, and also presented with the Ute Mountain Ute Elders’ Committee and went over the colors, body parts, and kinships in Ute.

May Mountain, of the Ute Indian Tribe, also talked about her time teaching the youth and the classes she holds once a week to help those wanting to learn the language.

There was also a special guest speaker who was not Ute, and her name is Joyce Hughes. During her presentation she spoke entirely in her Native language, O’otham. Her hands on approach using stuffed animals as props and telling a story visually captivated the room. In the matter of 30 minutes she was able to teach the audience 5-10 words in her Native language.

“The reason we brought a non-Ute speaker in to do the presentation is because we wanted everyone to see how it feels to be a beginner at a new language,” tribal member Dedra Millich said.

To wrap up the gathering Southern Ute tribal member, Dr. Stacey Oberly held a group discussion about ways to keep the language alive.

“The best way to keep the language alive is creating new speakers,” Oberly said.

Other suggestions included using songs, technology, radio stations, getting the tribal governments involved and even having Ute names on street signs and tribal buildings on the reservation, to name a few.

As far as the event, Arlene Millich believes it will be an ongoing event and and offered some ideas on how to make it better next year.

“I think we should make it an annual event … I would like to see that happen,” she said. “I think next year we will have more interactive activities, and interact as a whole group more.”

She also said that better preparation and a bigger venue will help improve the event next year.



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