Language Preservation

Sonny Hendricks

Sonny Hendricks

Tuolumne Me-Wuk Language Symposium November 2019In June of 2004, Sonny Hendricks, a Tribal Elder, began work on the Native Language Preservation Project. He was assisted by Debbie Colston from the Cultural Department and Candra Neff from the Education Department. On January 11, 2005 Sonny Hendricks, called the first Native Language Preservation Program Committee meeting to order. The goal of this group was to create a Me-Wuk dictionary. Sixteen Elders of the Community were invited to be language consultants for the Language Program. Anyone interested in bringing back the language was invited to attend. During monthly meetings Me-Wuk words were remembered by the group and written down. Unfortunately, since the start of this Program four of these consultants have passed on.

“Up until the 1950s the Central Sierra Miwok language was spoken fluently by a majority of the Elders of the Tribe. Those Elders, however, were part of about two generations between about 1890 and 1930 who, as young children, were forcibly taken away from their families at a very early age and were sent to government Indian Schools. This was an attempt by the federal government to assimilate them into the non-Indian society and remove all traces of Indian-ness from them…The effect of the Indian School was the greatest loss of culture that anyone could imagine…Today most tribes are trying to remember, retrieve and preserve as much of their fragmented culture as they can…”

Sonny Hendricks presented this to the Native Language Preservation Committee on January 11, 2005.

In April 2007 the first Draft of the dictionary was created. The committee decided that an agreed upon way to write the language was needed. A linguist would be required to further the program. Several linguists were contacted.

Eva Hendricks, 1950's photo

Eva Hendricks, 1950’s photo

In December 2007, linguist, Sheri Tatsch, PhD, presented a language workshop on a Community-based Writing System. The purpose of the workshop was to start the process of deciding a way to write the language that everyone could agree on (practical orthography). It was decided that more research was needed to be done.

On April 4-6, 2008, three interested people from the Me-Wuk community attended the Language is Life Conference, at Marin Headlands in Sausalito, California. The Conference was sponsored by the Advocates for Indigenous Language Survival (AICLS). Members from California Tribes from all over the state interested in learning the latest in best practices for revitalizing indigenous languages attended.

June 8-14, 2008 three interested people from the Me-Wuk community attended the Breathe of Life Conference in Berkeley, CA. The goal of the conference was for participants to access, understand, and do research on materials on their languages, including learning the fundamentals of linguist analysis for language revitalization.

Currently the Native Language Preservation Committee supports the Tuolumne Me-Wuk Language Program. The language program is bringing the Me-Wuk language back to the community.

Tribal Consultants

The following individuals are acknowledged within the tribal community as consultants, having the experience and knowledge of the traditions, culture, language and family history of the Tuolumne Rancheria. January 11, 2005

  • Gary Bailey
  • Zandra Bietz
  • Andrew Carsoner
  • Tom Carsoner
  • James Cox
  • Jerry Cox
  • Robert Cox
  • Mildred Hawkins
  • Russell Hendricks
  • Sonny Hendricks
  • Vern Herzer
  • Phyllis Montgomery
  • Helen Wessell
  • Renee Wessell
  • Lawrence Wilson
  • Ruth Wilson
Kenneth Cox, Michael Cox, David Cox
Kenneth Cox, Michael Cox, David Cox