Have you ever wanted to learn a foreign language? For most adults and youth in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, our very own O’odham and Piipaash language seems like a foreign language. But it is not—it is the most important aspect of our Community’s cultural identity, and most Community members do not realize how important it is. The Cultural Resources Department and Community elders continue to put a lot of time and effort into keeping both languages alive.
On January 31, the first Piipaash Elders Gathering of the new year was held at the Lehi Community Building. The gathering to help revitalize the Piipaash language was hosted by the Piipaash elders, the SRPMIC Cultural Resources Department as well as elders from the Gila River Indian Community. At the meeting, Cultural Resources Director Kelly Washington and the Piipaash elders estimated that there are about 15 Piipaash speakers left in the Community.
The topic of discussion was to acknowledge the different levels of the people who speak the Piipaash language.
Washington said, “When we say ‘speakers,’ it’s not that black and white. There are different levels of being able to speak.”
Washington explained that there are some people who can carry on day-to-day conversation in Piipaash. Then there are quite a few people who understand Piipaash but do not speak it; they are important as well, because they could as easily become speakers. Every speaker in between, who can say a few simple phrases, is also important to carrying on the Piipaash language.
Washington also focused on the revision of the goals to keep the language going, because it is important to achieve smaller goals in order to get to the larger goal, which is to perpetuate the language.
“[We will use] some of the information we gathered today for the schools, and for upcoming projects for Cultural Resources Department staff and strategic planning for the language,” said Washington.
He explained that language learning takes place best when elder speakers and youth spend time together.
“Other things will help—books, technology and language classes all have a good place,” said Washington. “But if you really want to learn the language, there is no shortcut; learners have to be with speakers and be immersed in the language.”
The next Piipaash language meeting will take place on February 28 at the Lehi Community Building. For more information, call (480) 362-6325.