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Tribe Donates $1 Million to Preserve Chukchansi Language

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To keep its language alive the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians pledged $1 million to Fresno State’s College of Arts and Humanities for the Department of Linguistics May 7.

College faculty and students have been working with native speakers of the language since 2009 to devise a writing system and produce a dictionary. These funds will further that effort. Before now the language hasn’t existed on paper.

“This is a rare and exciting opportunity for the students and faculty of the Department of Linguistics,” said Dr. Vida Samiian, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, in a statement. “We are deeply honored to support the efforts of the Chukchansi people to revitalize and preserve their unique and historically significant language.” She said this gift from the Picayune Rancheria will enable the language to be properly documented so it can be brought back into social and ritual use for future generations of Chukchansi people.

Jane and Holly Wyatt are two of only a handful of remaining tribal members left who speak the language fluently. Both were happy and a little emotional at the prospect of the language having such a bright future when they spoke to KFSN-TV.

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Holly Wyatt said she learned the language from her grandmother, “who raised us… that's what we spoke around the house,” she said.

In making the gift, the tribal council pointed out how important keeping the language alive is for sustaining their cultural identity.

"We are proud to make this gift as part of our efforts as a tribe to preserve, protect, and revitalize our cultural identity and traditions," said Tribal Chairman Reggie Lewis in a statement. "It is extremely important to us that the language of our ancestors is not lost and that future generations of Chukchansi are able to learn and speak our native language."