UCR to offer free workshops on endangered Native American language

Courtesy of UCR Today
Courtesy of UCR Today

Students and members of the general public will have free access to a series of Cahuilla language workshops that will begin on April 15. The workshops will be conducted by linguist and former UCR Native American studies student Ray Huaute and do not require previous knowledge of the language.

The language, spoken by the Cahuilla people of the Coachella Valley, San Gorgonio Pass and San Jacinto Mountains, is considered an endangered language. A 2013 post by Rising Voices — an international nonprofit project that empowers underrepresented communities through grants — stated that only two fluent speakers remain. The language is used in bird songs and is sparking a revitalization effort among the indigenous population.

“It has always been a passion of (Huaute),” said Native American Student Programs Director Joshua Gonzales. “He is slowly trying to introduce the language and culture back into our community.”

The Cahuilla culture, according to Gonzales, is deeply embedded in the Riverside community. Rupert Costo, a member of the tribe, played a prominent role in the founding of UCR. Along with his wife Jeannette, Costo created the Costo Chair of American Indian Affairs — the first chair in the nation endowed by American Indians — which provides financial support to Native American youths seeking higher education. In 1994, UCR named its student services building Costo Hall.

Gonzales believes that Costo’s legacy alone should motivate Highlanders to take more interest in learning about the language and culture. “People don’t realize the great significance of our area,” Gonzales said. “It’s more than just about casinos. The Cahuilla language is something tied to this land and the people. By teaching people the language, it will provide more cultural significance.”

Gonzales said that there are plans to offer an introductory Cahuilla language class at UCR that will allow students of Native American studies to familiarize themselves with basic words, greetings and formality. Huaute will provide a sample of that in his first workshop, following a brief overview of some historical background.

“It will be great for students,” he said. “To be able to bring the language back and help future generations understand the Cahuilla culture will be very impactful for them.”

Third-year history and creative writing major Daniella Silva said that learning Cahuilla will add to her current knowledge of other cultures. She believes that part of the empowerment a student receives through the university experience depends on more ethnic awareness.

“It’s very important for students to learn about their current surroundings,” surmised Silva. “In order to be open as a university student, you must learn and immerse the culture and the land you’re surrounded by.”

For third-year political science major Gerad Assad, it will also allow residents of the Coachella Valley and San Jacinto areas who attend UCR to receive a better understanding of their community’s past.

“It’s good for one’s personal enrichment to be exposed to your community’s language and culture both in a historical and present sense,” he said. “It’s paramount that the students of the area have an understanding of the indigenous roots their neighborhoods have.”

Session dates are April 15, 17, 22 and 24. The three-hour workshops begin at 6 p.m. in the California Center for Native Nations, Interdisciplinary Building 3124.


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