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Piipaash Language Program 10 Year Anniversary

Families and old friends gather at the Piipaash Language Program's 10 year anniversary held at the Lehi Community Building July 25.

The O’odham Piipaash Language Program of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Cultural Resources Department hosted its 10th annual Piipaa Kuutsh Matasheevmsh (Piipaash Elders Gathering) in Lehi on July 25.

The main purpose of the group is to save the Piipaash language, as it is the most endangered Native language in the state of Arizona. They also work on translations requested by various tribal departments. This group is also known as the language revitalization group.

The event was open to all the Piipaash speakers who have attended the OPLP meetings, which are held on the last Tuesday of every month. Special guest elders from the Colorado River Indian Tribes and Gila River Indian Community were invited to the celebration as well.

To start the day, Miss Salt River First Attendant Joesell Garza shared a blessing in the Piipaash language. Guest speakers then discussed the importance of saving the Piipaash language.

“Being Piipaash and speaking Piipaash is something that is important; it’s something that belongs to the land here; it’s something that has always been here and is something that always will be here,” said guest speaker Luis Barragan from the Gila River Huhugam Heritage Center language program.

“This is what we are all working towards here today. We are all very appreciative of all the work everyone has been doing and all the information everyone has shared with us. Every little bit that everyone knows is very important, because it helps round out our knowledge of the language.

“Everyone speaks English differently, and it’s the same with Piipaash,” Barragan continued. “It helps us with the many ways you can say something. There is a certain way of speaking Piipaash and being Piipaash, a way of putting sentences together. A lot of it deals with how you actually talk to one another, how you actually approach one another in a sense of learning how to be a person, how to treat and respect one another.”

Other speakers also mentioned the importance of how to pronounce a word and determining how you would say newer words such as “computer” and “phone,” and even animal names, like “chicken.”

A majority of the Piipaash elders come from the District Seven area. The Gila River Senior Service Center transports them to Salt River every month.

Lehi elder Gene Juan and Nerrisa Juan received attendance certificates. Gila River District Seven elders also receiving certificates were Marjorie Boulder, Carl Sundust, Linda Ruiz, Grace Monahan, Theresa Donahue, Beryl Stevens, Reggie Sunn, Iris Mack, Jennifer Pechero, Luis Barragan and Robert Johnson. In addition to the certificates, elders received small gifts.

Piipaash singing by Isaac Sundust was the entertainment. Many guests joined in, either singing or dancing to each song.

The OPLP first began hosting the Piipaash monthly meetings and encouraged other Piipaash communities to attend, such as the Colorado River Indian Tribes and members of Gila River’s language program. Eventually, the other Piipaash communities began taking turns hosting the meetings in their respective communities.

The first meeting was held on July 31, 2007, here in the Community. The small group of four elders who participated in the beginning has grown to a monthly attendance of 15 to 20.

The next Piipaa Kuutsh Matasheevmsh meeting will take place August 29, 10 a.m. -2 p.m. at Cultural Resources Department’s main classroom.

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