old bridge angie arroyo

There’s no question that language is the key to keeping one’s culture alive. It serves as the connective tissue that bonds the present to the past and the future. As members of the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake tribe, we must work hard to address the ongoing cultural struggle to revive and strengthen our language.

What makes this challenge so difficult?

First, there are not many living speakers of the Eastern Pomo language. With fewer and fewer fluent people still with us, language transmission becomes harder and harder. Second, for generations there was no written language at all, which presents a unique challenge for future learners to understand how to pronounce and reproduce its words. No one knows this better than our Tribal Historian and Archivist, Kai Ganado. He understands firsthand given the challenges we face, that it’s exciting that there are new opportunities emerging for language renewal.

HPUL is thrilled to participate in the 2018 Breath of Life workshops on June 3rd through 9th, hosted by The Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival and The University of California at Berkeley. I, along with Kathleen Treppa attended two years and were enriched greatly by the opportunity. This year, Kai Ganado will attend both the weekend workshops as well as a full week with the UCB researchers.

Breath of Life comes in response to the action of Native American communities who have been searching for new tools and venues to help revive and strengthen our languages, particularly those for which there are few or no living first language speakers left. By working with linguistic field notes, primary documents and recordings, workshop participants will be given new opportunities to learn how to understand and teach these materials in the advancement of language revitalization.

For many individual tribes, the task of preserving languages that are no longer spoken has been next to impossible. Thankfully, Breath of Life bridges the gap between the past and the future by connecting tribes to the archives at Berkeley and the Smithsonian Institution. They walk people through the steps of archival research and offer a roadmap for individuals with limited training in these methods. Make no mistake about it, it’s still an undertaking that requires commitment and a healthy dose of inspiration, but thanks to Breath of Life, language revitalization is no longer an unreachable dream.

You never know what you might discover in the archives. In my research, I found a note written about my grandfather that was incredibly moving.

Many opportunities of learning and encouragement await us. In addition to the UC Berkeley workshops, we have the unique fortune of continued discoveries with Line Mikkelsen, an expert linguist we worked with two years ago, who will once again be assisting us one-on-one over the summer.

There is much to learn – this weekend, over the summer and throughout our lives. From firsthand experience, I can assure you that keeping our language alive brings new breakthroughs for us all!