Native Village
Youth and Education news
 MAY 1, 2010   VOLUME 2

Treasured Teacher Embodies 100 Reasons to Learn Oneida
Condensed by Native Village

Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Elder language teacher Maria Hinton recorded the Oneida Dictionary with help from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Her recordings, available online, will help future generations learn how to properly pronounce the Oneida language. Wisconsin: When Maria Hinton was born nearly 100 years ago, every Oneida family spoke the language of their ancestors. Today, Hinton may be one of the last fluent Oneida speakers in Wisconsin.

She is determined not to be the last.

Hinton recently finished recording the Oneida dictionary. For five years she worked almost daily to record 12,000 audio files, including tens of thousands of Oneida words. She also told stories she first heard in her mother tongue.

“I am not completely retired,” said Hinton. “We need to keep doing this so the young people can learn things and then they can pass them on.”
Jerry Hill is Oneida and president of the Indigenous Language Institute in Santa Fe, N.M.  “[Oneida] was the predominant language when she was born, and for q
uite a few years after she became an adult. Over time people got assimilated, got jobs outside, got married, and it became less necessary.”

Hinton, however, remembered her language. Her memory is a gift that was recognized in a name, Yaké-yahle, given to her when she was 46. It means She Remembers.

In 1971, Maria and her brother, Amos Christjohn, began working with the Oneida Nation to teach the language to children. Two years later, at the age of 63, Hinton enrolled in the University of Wisconsin to earn her bachelor’s degree. She even learned to drive so she could get to her classes.

Hinton graduated cum laude in 1979. She and Christjohn became founding teachers at the Oneida Nation Turtle School. They also worked with other elder speakers for 35 years to compile a Oneida language dictionary.  The dictionary grew to 34,000 words. It was published in 1996.

Soon people began approaching Maria to try out their Oneida. She noticed that their pronunciation was often terrible.

I pointed out to her that the only way to prevent that was if they had a model, and we started the project of her recording the entire dictionary,” said Cliff Abbot, a Yale-trained linguist who helped with the project.

Last year, at age 99, Maria was honored with a Prism Award from the National Museum of the American Indian for her Oneida language efforts. 

This year, Maria Hinton will be 100 years old

The Oneida Language Dictionary in Hinton’s voice:

The database is searchable with English words.

Volume 1         Volume 2          Volume 3          Volume 4

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