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SRPMIC Community member Gene Juan was awarded a plaque from President Diane Enos for his perfect attendance and contribution to the Piipaash language.

Preserving the O'odham Piipaash Language

By Angela Willeford
Au-Authm Action News

On October 25 at the Lehi Community Building, the O’odham Piipaash Language Program (OPLP) honored the men and women who have worked with the program to help document the O’odham and Piipaash languages and practice and teach them so they can be preserved for future generations. Both languages are being carefully documented and recorded through video and audio.

In 1998, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community conducted a survey to assess how many individuals in the Community could speak either O’odham or Piipaash, and determine how fluent people were in the languages. Cultural Resources Director Kelly Washington said, “Many speakers rated themselves lower than was actually the case, and some people who only knew a few words rated themselves much higher than was actually the case.” The survey fell short of their expectations; they couldn’t get an accurate number, because only a fraction of the Community was surveyed.

Currently there are only a few dozen people from Salt River and the Gila River Indian Community who speak the Piipaash language. It is in danger of being lost permanently if more people do not learn it.

One of those fluent speakers is Community member Gene Juan, who has extensively assisted the OPLP program by attending every class since 2007. Juan has dedicated his time and knowledge in an effort to help preserve the language.

More than 100 Community members know the O’odham language. Although it may seem like a significant number, Washington said that it is only a very small fraction, considering that there are well over 9,000 Community members.

The Piipaash language class meets the last Tuesday of the month, January to September, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The O’odham class meets all year long on the first Thursday of the month, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

All participants who have attended classes for the O’odham or Piipaash language received awards to recognize their participation in keeping the two languages alive. SRPMIC President Diane Enos presented Gene Juan with an award for his perfect attendance in the Piipaash class.

If you would like to attend OPLP classes or have any questions, call (480) 362-6325.

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