By: Hannah Stack
As a building block of humanity, language, both spoken and written, is a fundamental necessity for human interaction and community development. It encompasses the complexities of a people and connects younger generations to their ancestors of years past. A language in its own right can be seen as a crucial representation of cultural identity and tradition, and its endangerment therefore as a grave threat to the preservation and maintainability of the culture it represents.
The Euchee Tribe, an Indigenous people that today reside in Northeastern Oklahoma, is no stranger to this great cultural threat. A federally unrecognized community consisting of approximately 2,400 people, the Euchee people have been threatened for generations by forced relocations, western influence, and cultural marginalization. Along with other aspects of their culture and tradition, the language of the Euchee People is constantly exposed to and has been critically affected by these outside forces. Today, only four native speakers of the ancient Euchee tongue remain, all of age 89 or above.
Despite being confronted with a threat of this magnitude, the Euchee People have proved their resilience and, through the formation of the Euchee (Yuchi) Language Project in the late 1990s, have begun the arduous road to increased cultural rebuilding and language restoration. Responding to organization founder Richard Grounds’ belief that language loss is “the biggest crisis in Indian country today,” the Euchee Language Project encourages the continued growth and retained usage of the Euchee language through a highly immersion-based program.
Centered on the elder native speakers, the program relies on now-fluent apprentices who work in close proximity with the native speakers to record and better understand the unique syntax and intricacies of the Euchee language. Together, the elder speakers and apprentices conduct daily afternoon immersion courses for Euchee children aged 3 to 18 that focus on developing a strong language basis for the young learners. Although most of the students do not speak Euchee at home, the organization hopes that, with an increased number of speakers in the community, a “new generation of first-language speakers” will eventually be created.
While the Language Project unquestionably acknowledges the degree of difficulty presented by such a weighty undertaking, its staff and supporters understand the necessity of its continued success. In the words of Renee Grounds, daughter of founder Richard Grounds and now-fluent second language learner, “We feel like it’s the birthright of every child to be able to speak their own language. It’s our responsibility in my generation to bridge that gap, to reach to the elders and bring it down to the new ones born now. If we don’t do it, there won’t be another chance.”
With the help of the First Peoples Worldwide Keepers of the Earth Fund, the Euchee Language Project looks to continue their mission and allow for the lasting rebirth of their culturally significant language throughout their community.
“Euchee-Yuchi Language Project
Landry, Alysa. “Racing to Save the Yuchi Language.” Indian Country Today Media Network.com. 28 Mar. 2014.
“Our Mother Tongues | Euchee.”