E1: Meet the YLP Crew!

Learn more about the Yurok Language Program staff and why we got into Yurok language revitalization

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🎤 Intro/Outro Sing-a-long video:
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Timestamps by Title

Pod Intro 0:00- 0:42

Episode 1 Intro 0:43-0:53

Adrean’s Intro 0:54-1:07

Adrean shares why learning Yurok is important to him 1:08-1:50

Victoria's Intro 1:51-2:09

Victoria shares about learning from her grandparents 2:10-2:57

Victoria shares why learning Yurok is important 2:58-3:54

Victoria's advice for new learners 3:55-4:41

James' intro 4:42-5:13

James shares why learning Yurok is important 5:14-6:56

James shares how he started learning Yurok and remembers working with first-language speakers 6:57-12:49

James shares what keeps him motivated to teach Yurok 12:50-13:49

Barbara's intro 13:50-15:15

Barbara shares why learning Yurok is important 15:16-15:55

Barbara's advice for new learners 15:56-17:27

Brit intro 17:28-17:41

Brit shares why learning Yurok can be hard 17:42-18:54

Brit shares why learning Yurok is important 18:55-12:31

Pod Outro 20:32-20:57

Full Transcript [closed caption]

Pod Intro 0:00- 0:42

Welcome to the Yurok Tribe Language Program’s “Yurok in 20!” Podcast.

The purpose of this podcast is to provide a space for Yurok language learners to listen to elder audio, follow along with short lessons, practice speaking and listening to Yurok language, and touch upon Yurok culture as it relates to what we’re learning.

Each episode will be under 20 minutes, so please join us as you’re cleaning, working out, or driving to work and make sure to check the show notes to find more resources for the episodes.

Cho’ saa-’a-go-che’-moh. “Let’s speak Yurok together.”

Episode 1 Intro 0:43-0:53

Here in Episode 1, we’d like to introduce ourselves and let you know a little bit more about us and why we work in Yurok language revitalization. 

First, let’s welcome Adrean. The newest member of the Yurok Tribe Language Program.

Adrean’s Intro 0:54-1:07

Kues son’? Nek ‘new Adrean Armendariz. Crescent City ‘ook. Ter-wer mey’-wo-me-chook’. Kol’ hoh-kue-mek’ Yurok Language Collections Specialist. ‘Ne-chek Michell Armendariz, ‘neyp-sech Daniel Armendariz.

Adrean shares why learning Yurok is important to him 1:08-1:50

Brit: Welcome, Adrean, to the podcast and to the Yurok Language Program.  Why do you think it’s important to learn the Yurok language?

Adrean: Learning Yurok language is important to me because no one in my immediate family can speak Yurok. My mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother never spoke a word of Yurok to me growing up and that’s something I want to be able to do with my children.

Brit: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. Is there anyone that influenced you to learn the language?

Adrean: I would say two people have influenced me to learn how to speak Yurok language. The first person being Jim McQuillen. Over the past five years, he has been my cultural mentor. The second person would be Victoria Carlson. She shares her story on becoming a Yurok language learner. She keeps me encouraged and motivated to learn the language. 

Victoria intro 1:51-2:09

Brit: Let’s introduce her now.

Victoria: ‘Ee-ya’ ney, Brit. Victoria Carlson, ‘new. Sre-gon ‘ne-mew’. Ter-wer keech ‘ook. Kol’ hoh-kue-mek’ Yurok Language Program Manager. Nek laa-yo-lue-mek’ ‘e-see noo-lue-mek’ kue ‘Oohl ‘we-toh. 

My name is Victoria Carlson, I come from the village of Sregon and I live in the village of Ter-wer. I work for the Yurok Language Program as the Program Manager. I teach the language and I love the language. 

Victoria about learning from her grandparents 2:10-2:57

Growing up I heard my grandparents speaking the language in the home here and there for things in the kitchen, certain common words we would say.  I thought it was just so beautiful. I would ask my grandma how to say things in Yurok. She was a very kind person and so she would always sit down with me to talk. My grandfather, he was my main teacher for Yurok language. We were in the Master-Apprentice Program together [Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival].  I would really, really work hard to try to study the language and look things up and practice saying them and then I would take it to him and try to speak it to him to see if he would understand. He would just say it back to me, and I knew that was a sign saying, “You’re just a little bit off. You need to say it like this…” I would correct myself and try to say it like him and he’d give his nod of “Yeah! You did it. You said it right.” 

Victoria shares why learning Yurok is important 2:58-3:54

Always felt really good working in the Language Program, working with ‘aa-wok Aileen Figueroa as one of my main teachers. ‘Eee, thinking of those speakers– 10 years ago, in 2013, we lost the last of our fluent speakers. Yurok language is important. It tells us about our past. Most importantly, it shares the worldview of the Yurok People, the ‘Oohl, and we can’t forget there was a lot of fluent speakers who endured a lot of pain. They were punished for speaking their language at the Indian Boarding Schools and some of them didn’t return home. They came back to their tribal communities. They really took the language and kept it going and kept carrying it on and did as much hard work as they could do until they could… no longer. We have to remember that. We have to keep carrying it on for them. We have to keep working and keep learning no matter how hard it gets because we’re the ones that have to carry it on now. 

Victoria’s advice for new learners 3:55-4:41

For those that are just learning to speak the language I would just say start out by trying to learn  things that you use in English. If it’s one word a day, one word in your household or in your family that you want to change and just say it in Yurok. If it’s the word for yes or no or for water, that’s always a good one. The more you use it the more it starts feeling good. At first just trying to incorporate it in your home. Finding a partner to practice with, or attending the language activities. Most importantly, you start to learn the language and it starts to get difficult. You want to keep going, keep pushing through that, continue to learn no matter how hard it gets, you have to keep learning, because you must remember that our language gives back to us.

James’ intro 4:42-5:13

‘Aiy-ye-kwee’. Nek ‘new, James Gensaw. Rek’-woy ‘e-see Sa’-ahl ‘e-see Stoo-wen ‘ne-mew’. Nek Pue-leek-laa’ ‘Oohl ‘e-see nek kem Tolowa ‘Oohl ‘o Yan'-daa-k'vt ‘ue-mew’. ‘Ne-chek ‘wew Sharon Reed, ‘neyp-sech ‘wew ‘aa-wokw Oscar Gensaw, Jr., ‘ne-kue-chos ‘wew ‘aa-wokw Josephine ‘e-see Irene, ‘ne-peech-o-wos ‘wew ‘aa-wokw Oscar ‘e-see Richard. Keech ‘o hoh-kue-mek’ Pue-leek-laa’ ‘we-toh ‘o kue Del Norte High School ‘o Koh-pey. 

Hello, my name is James Gensaw, Sr. I come from the villages of Rek’-woy, Sa’-ahl, and Stoo-wen. I’m a Yurok downriver Indian and I’m also Tolowa, come from the village of Yontocket. My mother is Sharon Reed and my father is poor old Oscar Gensaw, Jr. My grandmother’s the late Josephine Gensaw and Irene Johnson. My grandfathers   are ‘aa-wok Oscar Gensaw, Sr. and Richard Pennington. I currently teach Yurok language at Del Norte High School in Crescent City.

Brit: Thank you for introducing yourself, James.  

James on why it is important to learn the Yurok language 5:14-6:56

Brit: James has taught at three out of the four local high schools where Yurok language is being offered. He’s also our Cultural Coordinator and one of the most fluent speakers of Yurok today. Why is it so important for you to speak and teach the Yurok language?

James: I always wanted to speak Yurok. Learning Yurok was a big part of finding myself—who I am and where I belong in this world. I think another important reason to speak Yurok is to honor those people that came before us. A lot of my teachers that taught me this language, they went to boarding school and they were forced to not speak the Yurok language. They were beaten and abused and told that their language didn’t belong in this world. When I was first learning, a lot of the elders told me that it was my responsibility if this language got lost, cuz a lot of the elders, they spent their whole lives trying to teach people and preserve the Yurok language and it was the next generation’s responsibility to speak the language and keep it going. So to me, teaching and learning the Yurok language is very important. I believe it is an imperative to also teach our children the importance of learning Yurok. My oldest son, couple months before he turned two, his mother told him in English, “I love you.” and he turned to and spoke to her in Yurok and said, noo-lue-chek’. There are certain things at my house that I don’t use English words for. [I] never tell my kids I love them in English. I tell my kids I love them in Yurok. To me that builds a strong connection with them and it makes them understand the importance and the power of Yurok.

I had an elder tell me that it was important to speak Yurok because in a lot of our ceremonies we believe that our ancestors come down and they listen and they watch and they pray for things that we forget to pray about, and he says, “People need to learn to  learn the language so that we can have stronger medicine at our dances.”

James about how he became a Yurok language teacher and working with first language speakers 6:57-12:49

Brit: Are you open to sharing a little bit about how you became a Yurok language speaker and teacher?

James: What first sparked my language interest was, when I was in first grade I had one of my good friends come to school one day and he taught me this cuss word in Yurok. We’d go outside during recess and lunch time and we’d say these cuss words out loud and nobody knew what we were saying. It felt pretty cool like we were speaking our special code that no one else knew. 

Throughout my school career I didn’t have any language teachers. I didn’t have any Native teachers, as a matter of fact, until I got to high school. Del Norte High School, they had a Tolowa Dee-ni’ language class, they didn’t have any Yurok classes, and I remember having my very first Native teacher. It was Me’-lash-ne, Loren Bommelyn. He opened the door to me, to language learning. His class was awesome. It was full of people who looked like me, [a] teacher that looked like me, people that knew my family and who I am and where I come from. That was one of the biggest sparks to my language learning, was learning the Tolowa language. Learning about the culture and history and the stories of my People. 

After high school, something was just telling me I needed to learn Yurok and I found there was this community language class that was happening in Crescent City. I remember my first day going, there was this old guy sitting there, and he always had the biggest smile on his face. It would just light you up. Light up a whole room. It was ‘aa-wokw poor Archie, Archie Thompson. So, I started taking classes with Archie and Barbara McQuillen. She was leading the classes. I remember my first day in language class I was like, “Hey, I wanna come up with a Brush Dance song!” I said, “I’ll come up with a song, I just need to know these words. ‘I went down to the mouth of the Klamath River and I caught a whole lot of fish!’” So, he gave me the words, he says, ‘Ne-koh-chue-mek’ tey-nem’ ko ney-puy Rek’-woy.” I kept saying that over and over and over. The next week or so I go fishin, trying to come up with a Brush Dance tune. Then, I was coming through the redwoods between Crescent City and Klamath and then this tune came to me. [singing] ‘Ne-koh-chue-mek’ tey-nem’ ko ney-puy Rek’-woy, hey yo, hey-yay yo, hey yo, hey yo, hey yo (x2). [singing ends] And so I was like ayy! I sang it for about 20 minutes, got down to Klamath, I went in there and I saw Barbara. I was so excited. I said, “Hey, remember those words I got our first language class with ‘aa-wokw Archie? I made it into a song.” So I sang it. Barb says, “You need to record that in case you forget it.” And I was like, “I ain’t gonna forget it. I just sang it for like 20-30 minutes! I won’t forget it.” She said, “Let me go get a recorder.” So, we recorded it. Good thing cuz about 5 minutes later I forgot it. I continued to take Yurok language classes for about 5-6 months then I ended up breaking my legs. I had a bad accident. Stopped learning Yurok for a few years actually because there weren’t that many places that you could go and learn Yurok at the time. Started going to college. I saw, during the summer, they had these college internships for the Tribe and one of them was for Language. I applied and I got picked. The first summer my job was these audio tape recordings that were on cassette tapes, to listen to them and transfer them over to CDs or other tapes and things like that. A lot of these old cassette tapes, they were all in Yurok, so I’d be listening to them and supposed to transcribe what they were talking about and I didn’t know that much Yurok at the time. I remember coming back and just listening to all these tapes all day, when I’d go to sleep I’d hear all this stuff in Yurok and I didn’t even know what they were saying, just these tapes playing in my head. That next year I had another college scholarship to work for the Yurok Language Program. I remember my poor ‘aa-wokw auntie Aileen coming in one day and asking me some of the simplest things in Yurok and I didn’t know how to respond to her and she says, “Why did you hire this guy?” and I felt so embarrassed and that motivated me to learn more and more Yurok. 

During that time period I got to work with a lot of first language speakers ‘aa-wokw Jimmie “Toe”, ‘aa-wokw my auntie Aileen, ‘aa-wokw Georgiana, ‘aa-wokw Glenn Moore, ‘aa-wok Archie, ‘aa-wok Ada. A lot of these different elders that I worked with, they really impacted my life. I got to go to their house, sit down and visit with them, record them, and learn Yurok from them. That was one of the biggest impacts on my language learning. Growing up I never had a healthy childhood. They were like my healthy grandparents. Over the years and years working with them, they had the biggest influences on my life. To listen to their stories about their lives and sit down and visit with them, it really impacted me in a positive way. Helped me turn into a good man. Now, looking back, they’re all gone. All my teachers of this language are gone.  

Another person that really influenced my Yurok language learning had to be Carole Lewis. My second year of college she says, “I want you to drop out of college.” And she says, “I don’t tell anyone this because, you know, I work in Education. Our elders really like you. Not everyone works well with elders. We’ll hire you here with the Yurok Language Program. I want you to work with our elders. I want you to record and video them, document, and learn from them, before it’s too late.” What Carole gave me was the biggest gift that anyone could ever give me. It gave me opportunities to work with a lot of our first-language speakers before they were gone and, to me, that’s some of the most precious moments in my life so far.  

Another person was Barbara McQuillen. Barb spent countless hours trying to teach me at the very beginning. We talked to each other all the time in Yurok. All those years that we worked together in the Klamath office, we’d work with the elders and we’d come back and we would just talk for hours and hours every day about life, about politics, about culture. All these things in Yurok language. That’s a very special person that impacted my life. 

James about what keeps him motivated to continue speaking and teaching the language 12:50-13:49

Brit: Thank you so much, James, for sharing your story with us. What a blessing to be able to work with all those first-language speakers. So much of that documentation and recording work still helps a lot of us second-language learners today. That comes from their passion about making sure our language continues on and also the relationships that you built with them. Sometimes being a speaker of the language and a teacher of the language can be really heavy. It can be a weight on your shoulders knowing that you have a job to do and you’re going to be a lifetime learner. You shared a little bit about some of your early motivations, but what keeps you motivated today? What do you do when language learning gets hard?

James: To this day what keeps me going is my children and all the students that I teach in the high schools. I’ve taught thousands of kids over the last 15 years this language and I hope one day that I can impact some else’s Yurok language learning experience in a healthy way.  

Brit: I’m glad Barbara was able to convince you to record that song.

Barbara’s Intro 13:50-15:15

Brit: Barbara’s been working for the Yurok Language Program since its inception. She started learning language with her poor mother and then in 1998, became one of the first employees of the Yurok Language Program for the Yurok Tribe. In 1999, they did a planning grant to assess the number of speakers in our community, and really, to make a plan for the revival of our language, which was considered to be going dormant at the time. Carole Lewis and Barbara McQuillen really carried the Yurok Language Program all these years. Carole retired a few years back, and Barbara, who taught at Del Norte High School for many, many years, recently retired from there, continues to work with us here in the Yurok Language Program as our Collections Coordinator. She’s been working with Adrean to archive and catalog many of those recordings that James mentioned so that we can share them with the community and second-language learners can continue to learn from them. Not too many of us got the opportunity to learn from a first-language speaker directly, but through their work, we’re able to listen and learn one, two, even three generations later. I’m excited to introduce you to Barbara McQuillen.

Barbara: Hehl ke-lew.

Brit: Barbara, will you say a few words?

Barbara: ‘New Barbara McQuillen. Tue-rep mey’-wo-me-chook’. ‘Ne-chek ‘wew ‘aa-wokw Betty McQuillen. Nue-mee ‘ne-kue-chos ho ‘wew ‘aa-wokw Ida Janes-James. Kol’ hoh-kue-mek’ Yurok Language Program Collections Coordinator. 

Barbara shares why learning Yurok is important 15:16-15:55

I think that learning the Yurok language is important to me because it tells me about myself and who I am, where I came from. It’s also a way to honor my ancestors, people I came from that spoke our language and only our language at one time. It’s been a passion of mine to keep learning and keep teaching. I think that my mother, Betty McQuillen, inspired me a lot, to learn. She was raised speaking the language and understanding, and she worked hard to pass along what she knew to me and just inspired me to learn more and work more on my own language development. 

Barbara’s advice for new learners 15:56-17:27

Brit: Do you have any advice for new language learners?

Barbara: I think one of the most important things as a language learner is to be persistent, not give up. Keep going. Always push yourself even if it gets hard. Sometimes you wanna give up cuz you don’t get it, but I think it’s important to try and learn something new every day and also, in addition to learning more language, it’s important to teach what you’ve learned to somebody else. It’s a way for us to pass on our culture and traditions. 

Brit: Thank you for all the work you’ve done over these years, Barbara. I know Victoria, James, and myself all got started as Yurok language interns in the Yurok Language Program. You’ve been a real inspiration to me, a wealth of knowledge. As a second language learner, we work with the tools that we have–whether that’s online or books or recordings–but I’ve found time and time again that there are some things that just don’t exist in those spaces. I’ve been really blessed to work with you and ask those questions of you and a lot of the time there are these phrases or this situational language that you know through the experiences and the way that you were able to learn language from a first-language speaker that just isn’t found anywhere else yet. I consider it my goal to make language as accessible as possible and I have a real soft spot for second-language learners that are just looking for that organic language learning experience. You know so much and you’re so humble that it becomes really easy to approach you about these questions.

Brit’s intro 17:28-17:41

Nek ‘new Brittany Vigil-Burbank. Pek-won, ‘O pyuue-weg, Me’dildin ‘ne-mew’. ‘Ne-chek ‘wew Tami Fletcher-Lara. Ho ‘neyp-sech ‘wew ‘aa-wokw Davey Vigil. Kol’ hoh-kue-mek’ Distance Learning Coordinator. 

Brit shares why learning the Yurok language can be hard 17:42-18:54

I know it’s hard to learn the language sometimes. There are things that we have to deal with as Yurok people that you just don’t have to deal with when you’re picking up a world language like French or German. For Yurok people, trying to learn our own language, we feel all these emotions because we know there’s intergenerational trauma to confront. I understand why a lot of people kind of shy away from the language. It’s hard to prioritize it when we all have so much going on but it’s super important. I’ve learned so much about our worldview by learning how our words break down and what we really mean when we’re saying them. My husband is not Yurok, he’s Okinawan, but he’s kind of learned it by hearing it in context and I’ve had to really search out learning through, mostly, the Yurok Tribe Language Program, whether it’s their teacher training program or pods, which were immersion settings for small groups, or language camps. It’s been really amazing getting to learn my language as my job. I’m really thankful for Victoria Carlson. She’s supported every new idea, every direction I’ve wanted to explore, to help give learners a new way to take in the language.    

Brit shares why learning Yurok is important 18:55-20:31

I knew I wanted to learn the Yurok language from a really young age. I would ask my grandma, but she came from that gap generation after boarding school and she didn’t speak our language. When I brought it up to my great-grandma, she would get really upset. Her, and many of her siblings, went to boarding school and I think she had a lot of trauma from that time, and just from living as a Yurok person during that time in general. By the time I got to 9th grade, I had been dreaming in our language. People had worked really hard to get Yurok language taught in the public schools and not only was I able to take Yurok language, but it counted for my foreign language credits for college.  The language classes really are what kept me coming to school. I would come home and practice with my great-grandma. She still wouldn’t speak to me in Yurok, but I know that she understood because when I would say something incorrectly she would frown and just shake her head at me like, no, that’s not right. She never did end up speaking Yurok to me. I just felt so heartbroken that she still knew her language but wouldn’t speak it all the way to her death. I just thought, what kind of trauma could cause that much pain for a person and I felt like it was my job to break that cycle. After many years of learning I’m happy to say that my children are now first-language Yurok speakers. They learned Yurok first. My kids will have the opportunity to learn their language all through their life and then teach their kids and it’s never been something that wasn’t around, never been something that was shameful for them, or bad, it’s always been positive. It kind of brings me full circle and I feel a little bit like we did break that cycle.  

Pod Outro 20:32-20:57

Thank you so much to those who have joined us here in the first Episode. Make sure to check the show notes for resources, and look for Episode 2 to start your Yurok language learning journey. To’ kee tey-ge-rew! 

[outro song begins] ‘Eyk-s’os, huen-keyk’-s’os! ‘Eyk-s’os, huen-keyk’-s’os! Toh-tep k’e-che-wes! 

“Close them, open them. Close them, open them. Clap your hands!”