5th Yuman Language Family Summit
Written by Kelly Washington
For the SRPMIC Au-authm Action News

March 10-12, 2006, at the Yuma Convention Center, a cultural family reunion was attended by a record number of people (unofficially over 450), including more Salt River Community members than ever before. This was the 5th Annual Yuman Language Family Summit.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Yuman family, please allow me to introduce you. ‘Yuman’ refers to a group of linguistically (and culturally) related Native peoples, indigenous to what is now the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. This includes the following tribal groups: Maricopa, Quechan, Mohave/Mojave, Hualapai, Havasupai, Yavapai, Cocopah, Kumeyaay, Pai Pai, and Kiliwa. The languages of these tribes are clearly related. Some are mutually intelligible…meaning they can understand one another. Not all of the languages are mutually intelligible; however, the relationships are obvious when comparing words and grammatical features. If you’re surprised to learn that these tribes are linguistically related, you may be equally surprised to learn which tribes are not.

Locally, many people are amazed that the Pima and Maricopa languages are not related in any way. It is often assumed that since we share many cultural traits and because we are federally recognized as one tribe, the Pima and Maricopa languages must be the same or similar. This is not the case. Likewise, the Yavapai people are often thought to be related to the Apache because they now share many cultural traits. But Yavapai is a Yuman language and Apache is an unrelated Athabaskan language. The Chemehuevi are frequently thought to be related to the Mohave, and the rest of the Yuman family, because they live along the Colorado River and have adopted Yuman cultural traits. But Chemehuevi is actually a language of the Uto-Aztecan language family. The situation is even more confounding in Southern California where many tribes have generically been labeled as “Mission” Indians. This generic term confusingly includes many different groups of people, some of whom are unrelated to one another and who speak completely different languages. The Kumeyaay (who may refer to themselves as ‘Iipay, Tipay, Kamia, or other distinct local names) are part of the Yuman language family and speak a dialect closely related to Cocopah. Other “Mission” tribes, such as the Luiseño and Cahuilla are not of the Yuman family, but share many cultural traits and even sing the same Bird Songs that are sung by the Yuman tribes.

Even if the rest of the world is confused about the Yuman people, the Yuman people are secure in their own identities. We know who we are and that’s what matters most. We further understand that it is possible and beneficial to reach out to our relatives as we struggle to maintain and revitalize our languages and traditional cultures. That’s really what the Yuman Summit is all about. Information is shared about what has been implemented by each tribe and the levels of associated success. Concerns, philosophies, technologies, techniques, strategies, and resources are also shared as we support one another in our efforts. These efforts may range from individual grass-roots endeavors to the development of sanctioned tribal programs and everything in between. All efforts are vital and each has its unique strengths and challenges. Perhaps the most rewarding outcome of this gathering, however, is the moral support we are able to provide one another. Dedicating one’s self to the perpetuation of traditional Native languages/cultures can be mentally and spiritually exhausting in today’s world, and it’s not uncommon for individuals to experience moments of despair. The Summit allows us to laugh together, sometimes cry together and ultimately recharge ourselves for the challenges that lie ahead.

The focal component of the Summit includes presentations from the various Yuman speaking communities and other relevant organizations. This year’s presentation titles included:

• American Indian Language Institute (AILDI)
• Barona Kumeyaay Language Preservation and Instruction
• Classroom Teaching Techniques for the Kumeyaay Language
• Comparative Yuman Language Kinship Terms
• Conducting Native Language Surveys
• Contemporary Games Using the Yuman Languages
• Cultures, Traditions, and Languages of the Baja Yumans
• Gila River Maricopa/Pee Posh
• How Culture Adds Strength and Character Through Pride of Identity
• How to Host a Yuman Summit
• Hualapai Beaded Capes
• Hualapai Culture
• Hualapai Games
• Hualapai Trail of Tears: The Long Walk
• Language Through Art
• Let’s Talk Mohave and Have Fun!
• Maricopa Kinship Terms: Teaching Relations With a Kinship Diagram
• MaxAuthor Software for support of Indigenous Languages
• Mini Pai Language Camp
• Mohave Colors, Numbers, Days of the Week
• Peon Games of the Yuman Tribes
• Quechan Writing Workshop
• Songs of the Yuman Speaking Tribes
• Web-based Model for Kumeyaay Language Lessons
• Yavapai Young Ambassadors
• Yuman Indian Doll Crafting "Ham than ap"
• Yuman Language Comparison

Other major elements of the Summit included traditional singing and dancing. Variations of the Bird Songs were most prevalent, but many other less frequently heard songs filled the air as well, such as: Piipaa (People), Alysha (Bird), Vospo (Empty House), Qwaaq (Deer), Uurav (Lightning), Akil, and more. Another regular component is the Elder Recognition Dinner, at which time individuals are recognized by their own communities for their outstanding contributions in the area of language. We also had the opportunity to play the traditional games of Peon and Kinse well into the night.

The Quechan Nation is to be commended for hosting this year’s event. Dozens of individuals from the Quechan Nation and other Yuman communities worked countless hours to make this event a success. The fact that none of the committee members, presenters, or helpers received payment of any kind exemplifies their dedication to and belief in the value of this endeavor. Tribal governments also stepped up to the plate, providing monetary donations that were used to feed attendees and to purchase printed bags and badge holders.

So where and when will the conference be held next year? That remains to be determined. Each year, the existing committee members have a post meeting to assess the event. Usually there are new faces present who want to get involved and the question is posed, “Which tribe is willing to host the next Summit?” Although, from exhaustion, the question is sometimes, “Can we manage to do this again?” The Barona Band of Kumeyaay expressed some interest in hosting the next Summit, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed. The Cultural Resources Department will keep you updated when information is available. Thank you to all who assisted and attended. We hope you had a wonderful time and that you are motivated to get involved with language maintenance/revitalization within our own Community.