A recent short documentary by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee for the New York Times profiles Marie Wilcox, of the Wukchumni, a Yokuts Tribe native to Central California.
Wilcox, who was born on Thanksgiving Day in 1933, grew up speaking mostly Wukchumni.
“I left my Indian language behind when my grandma died,” she says in the video. “I didn’t speak the language anymore until my sisters started to teach the kids. Hearing the girls trying to speak their language again made me want to learn again, and I started remembering.”
Her daughter, Jennifer Malone, explains how Wilcox would write words on whatever scraps of paper she had lying around.
“I was very surprised that she could remember all that,” Malone says in the vide. “She just started writing down her words on envelopes and papers.”
Wilcox gathered those scraps of paper up and started typing them slowly into a computer to create a Wukchumni dictionary. It took Wilcox and Malone about seven years to complete the dictionary. Now, Wilcox’s great-grandson, Donovan Treglown, is helping her record the dictionary.
Even Wilcox isn’t sure what the future holds for her language.
“I’m uncertain about my language and who wants to keep it alive, just a few—it’s sad,” she says. “It seems weird that I am the last one. It’ll just be gone one of these days maybe, I don’t know.”
But she isn’t alone, the tribe uses the dictionary Wilcox and her daughter created for weekly language classes.