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Piipaash 'Uuduushik: Taking the Initiative to Revitalize the Piipaash Language

Piipaash 'Uuduushik (We are the people) gathered together at the river with OPLP Education Specialist-Piipaash Leota Standing Elk.
Submitted photo

The beginning Piipaash Language class offered at the Cultural Resource Department’s O’odham Piipaash Language Program has inspired a group of classmates to get together in pursuit of an amazing goal.

The group known as Piipaash ‘Uuduushik meaning “we are the people” are raising money on their own accord to attend an Yuman Language Family Summit’s Immersion Camp near Peach Springs, Arizona. The group’s inspiration comes not only from a desire to keep learning, but also the need to keep the Piipaash language alive. This is the first time in the program’s history that students have gone outside of the classroom setting and taken the initiative to enhance their study of the language.

"I just want it [the summit] to be another experience where we get to be immersed in our culture and in our language," said student Joesell Garza. "We come here a lot and we learn the language, go home and share with our families. But it’s very rare that we're ever really immersed in it and surrounded by it. I think [the language summit is] going to be a good experience, and I'm just really hoping to learn more and share what I know."

Another student Hilary Richards has attended the Piipaash language class ever since the CRD was located at the Community Building. She explained her motive for learning Piipaash and continuing to revitalize the culture.

“(Back then) I heard a presentation where they said Piipaash was a dying language, so to speak," Richards said. "There were only 12 fluent speakers in the state that were left. That’s what made me want to learn Piipaash. I’ve stuck with it this whole time.”

Through the CRD, Richards has taken classes to learn how to make beaded capes, ribbon shirts, sandals and dresses. Learning the Piipaash culture has taken her far; she recently accepted a job as cultural specialist at Salt River Elementary School and will be implementing the Piipaash culture into the school’s curriculum.

No longer just classmates, the members of the Piipaash Uuduushik group see each other as family. Sticking with the class and practicing talking to each other has formed a bond between these learners that goes further than just being classmates. They bring in home-cooked food for everyone to share at each session. The need to keep the Piipaash language alive and well drives this group to be not only lifelong learners, but also lifelong friends.

If you or anyone you know is interested in learning O’odham or Piipaash languages please visit our website for the phrasebooks and audio at www.saltrivercrd.org or call our department at (480) 362-6325 for information on upcoming classes.