David Sanders, Mary E. Raigosa,
['aa-wok] Patti Gibbens, and Kay Inong:
Noohl hee-kon, "long time ago," say about 1987, the work on this book began. In the beginning it was ('aa-wok) Georgiana Trull, Jimmie James, Eleanor Logan, Earl Smoker, and Ollie Foseide, an incredible community of elders. The youngsters were ('aa-wok) Patti Gibbens [and] Kay Inong, Mary Raigosa, David Sanders, and Ruth Bennett. We met weekly, after school, in a classroom at Jack Norton Elementary School, Pecwan. This conversation book project, spanning the years and the generations, is a collaboration of many individuals and groups.
At that time Dr. Ruth Bennett kept us meeting regularly, providing supplies and food. We transcribed Yurok words and phrases using the Unifon alphabet, and a specialized computer font developed by Apple Computer. We often started with everyday conversation, turning our visits into language lessons: How is it going? What's new? What have you been doing?
To learn the language we conjugated verbs, recorded conversations, and transcribed stories. We talked about the weather and the way we felt, about floods, animals we saw, hunting and fishing, the dances, the way the river looked, and old stories. We also laughed a lot.
We became experts at hearing the fine nuances of sound in the language, and fine-tuning the Unifon alphabet to match the sound of Yurok. Unifon was originally developed in Chicago, in the 1940's, as a phonetic alphabet, to teach children to read. Its vowels and consonants were based on English sounds, and we constantly modified it to reflect the soun of Yurok as accurately as possible.
What we learned, among other things, was that the Yurok Language took many forms. If you were from Sregon, you had some differences in speech from someone who was from Weitchpec, or Requa, or Pecwan. The differences were not just in the sound of words, or how the words were said, but in the words themselves, and sometimes in whole phrases. Language truly reflected the place you were from and your identity. But the similarities outweighed the differences and the language above all unites the Yurok people.
There are differences between the way men and women speak, and what they say or don't say. At one time there was a high language, as well as a common language. Memory and the way people learned the language could affect the sound of their speech. We learned that some of our elders who didn't actively speak the language were still fluent speakers who had great cultural knowledge. The more they heard, the more they remembered.
We realize that these phrases are specific to a time, place, and the people who participated in this project. Though we did our best to get it right, we welcome input about the diversity of the language, because this shows the richness of the Yurok language. We also know we will be correcting errors and adding to this book as long as we are able.
The elders kept us going, with their warmth, humor, and patience. The laughter and the good-natured teasing of those days still ring in our memories and in the phrases of this book. ['aa-wok] Eleanor would say, "Look how Dave jumps when Mary says lu-chum" (frog). She would always get a laugh out of us. Or she would tell on herself. One day she came up behind ['aa-wok' Jimmie James at the grocery store in Hoopa, and surprised him, saying, kee-mow-lenee mey-wee-mor (bad old man!). But he got back at her as she got in her car to leave, saying, "helh nee'-nes m-ikee yue'mo-nuewk kue keyr-ro-mo muech-ro, "Look! See how the car sinks when she gets in!"
We were collaborating a great deal of information and material, but we needed a way to organize it, to make it available for others who wanted to learn. When ['aa-wok] Georgiana brought us a grant application from Native California Network, NCN, we applied for it, and to our surprise received a grant to produce a book. We suddenly had a purpose. Mary Bates Abbott of NCN was supportive throughout, and very patient with a project that seemed to be in danger of never ending. We hope she is proud of the product that she helped create.
The classes moved to Weitchpec for a while, then back to Pecwan, and finally to ['aa-wok] Georgiana's living room in her house at Pecwan. There her granddaughters, Virginia and Georgiana, often joined the class. ['aa-wok] John Trull, Georgiana's husband, was always ready with a cup of coffee for us. He taught us phrases that he learned while working in the woods and listening to elders of an earlier generation. He also taught us some Yurok swear words.
When the Yurok Tribe adopted the New Yurok Alphabet, we had a dilemma: the conversation book was already largely completed in Unifon. We decided that it would be best to include both Unifon and the New Yurok Alphabet spellings of each entry. This would accommodate people who felt more comfortable using Unifon, because of its long use and infusion into the schools, and help bridge the transition to the New Yurok Alphabet.
Kay Inong translated all of the Unifon material into the New Yurok Alphabet, a daunting task that she did with ease. Kay, ['aa-wok] Patti and Dave spent countless hours and many late nights laboring over the language and typing Yurok into our computers. Mary helped gathr, organize, and record. We painstakingly checked and rechecked every word. Then we would take it back to ['aa-wok] Georgiana and go over it again and again. We were obsessed, but we loved what we were doing.
Finally, we needed a last push to bring the book to completion. Barbara McQuillen, Language Coordinator for the Yurok Tribe, gave us deadlines and pushed us to see our dream fulfilled. She acquired a grant through the Yurok Tribe from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to publish the book. We would never have finished the project without her help.
Wade Ammon, Graphics Specialist at the Center for Indian Community Development, CICD, provided us with his computer graphics design expertise. He made our ideas look good. Thanks to Wade for putting it all together, and being so good-natured and agreeable.
To the elders who worked with us, taught us, and helped us grow, we would like to say wo-hlaw'. Though we barely realized it at the time, being with you was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was a time full of fun, food, and storytelling. It was a happy time to be together. It opened our eyes to those who came before and what it means to be Yurok. In immeasurable ways this time changed our lives forever, and we will never forget.
Most of all we would like to thank ['aa-wok] Georgiana Trull for being our teacher. Thank you for your devotion to preserving the Yurok Language. Thank you for your patience and wisdom, and for always being there for us. Thank you for saying the words over and over again, each time we said kem ku-soch. Thank you for entertaining us at your house all those years, for giving us coffee, food, and welcome. At each step of the way you guided us, not only as [a] teacher, but also as project organizer and director: you developed the relationship with Dr. Bennett; you learned Unifon and helped us correct as we wrote the language; you brought the grant from NCN to our attention; and you talked to Barbara McQuillen and told her we needed help to get the project finished and printed. You have always been at the center of our group, and we love you.
A common goal drives us on: an intense desire to keep the language going. To make it live. We want to inspire our children and students to learn it and use it. We hope that they will make it part of their lives, as this has been for us.
For our children, students, and Yurok speakers everywhere, pas,t present, and future.
Kem kol-nee keech o nue'-mo kee' wo key-gom'-moy-om' ohl wo soo-to.
We have come together once more, speaking Indian language.