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Kyle McHenry stood in front his
Mechoopda Maidu tribe
and played a program in
their native language.
The elders eyes filled with
“There are no native
speakers,” he said. “It was
worth all the work that I did
just to see the look on their
faces. They haven’t heard it
since they were kids.”
Imagine trying to bring dead
language that has old texts or
letters to refer to. No one
knows the vocabulary and
grammar. The was the challenge
for McHenry, a 23-year-old
student at Haskell Indian
other Maidu youth and young
adults, Kyle is fascinated
with cultural traditions. One tradition he feared would
be lost forever was Koyoongkawi,
their trial language. The only
real reference source to it was
1940s recordings made of then-elder Emma Cooper.
Cooper was in her 80s, the
U.S. government interviewed her about Koyoongkawi. They
intended to use
the language as a code during
World War II. The war ended
before that plan could be
realized, but the recordings
McHenry spent over 120 hours transferring
these recordings to digital format, then
converting them into a teaching tool. The recordings
include 579 words.
The program has been
dubbed Niseki Wehweh, meaning
“Our Talk” in Koyoongkawi. took
"Where we come from is
everything,” McHenry said. “The language explains
different things about the land,
the culture, who we are. If
nobody learns now it will be
gone forever,” said McHenry, who
hopes to return to Chico when he
graduates in the spring. “It was
a gift, and we should keep it
and cherish it.”
Niseki Wehweh is on
the librarian’s computer at the Mechoopda office..
Each group of words has its own folder and
when bear pops up
on the screen, one hears an audio of
Emma Cooper saying
the Koyoongkawi word for bear
four times. The listener has
time to hear and repeat it.
As soon as Niseki Wehweh is
copyrighted by the
Mechoopda Maidu tribe, it
will be available to all
tribal members. The tribe will
even lend out iPod Nanos with the program
Mechoopda’s identity lies in
the hands of the younger
“It’s very sad that we’ve lost
our language, but the
kids will bring it back,” said
tribal elder Delores McHenry. “Kyle is
really doing a great service to
McHenry has worked with
Koyoongkawi for two years, but
says he only has the vocabulary
of a 2-year-old. He's
still has trouble forming
sentences. But he's confident
that his and the younger
generations can revive their
native language. He’s
confident, however, that his
younger—will be able to revive
their native language.
“Without our language,
we’re not our people yet. When
that comes back, it’ll just be—I
can’t put it into words,”
Delores said. “Listening to him
speak, it threw us way back in
time to when we all spoke it.
You can’t imagine hearing your
spoken—it’s like a miracle
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