Marie Wilcox, who saved the language of her tribe, dies

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California Native American Marie Wilcox Who Saved Her Tribe’s Dying Tongue Has Died

VISALIA, Calif. (AP) – Marie Wilcox, a Native American woman from California who saved the dying tongue of her tribe, has died. She was 87 years old.

Wilcox was once the last to speak Wukchumni fluently, but she worked for more than 20 years to produce a dictionary of the language spoken by her tribe in California’s San Joaquin Valley and taught her family. Today, at least three speakers are fluent in the language, including his daughter.

Wilcox died on September 25 in a hospital in Visalia after her aorta ruptured. Her great hope was for the language work she began to pursue, her daughter, Jennifer Malone, told the Fresno Bee.

“Her dream for us was to continue,” Malone said on the eve of her mother’s memorial service on Friday in Tulare County. “So whatever happens, we’ll do it and teach as many people as we want. “

A Wukchumni dictionary written by Wilcox was copyrighted, and his family are now looking for an editor for it, Malone said.

The Wukchumni are one of many tribes under the larger umbrella of the Yokuts, indigenous people of the central San Joaquin Valley. But unlike other federally recognized Yokuts tribes, the Wukchumni have no federal status and lack resources for cultural preservation.

Wilcox’s work to save her native language from the brink of extinction took off again in 2014 when The New York Times made a short documentary showing her diligently typing Wukchumni words and stories into an old computer from his home in Woodlake.

The longtime Tulare County resident grew up in the northeastern foothills of Visalia and worked in a fruit packing factory in Exeter for much of her life before becoming a language teacher, Malone said. Wilcox also appreciated the traditional weaving of Native American basketry.

She regularly taught Wukchumni language courses through the Owens Valley Career Development Center. Language courses will continue.

“You see, I’m not sure about my tongue and who wants to keep it alive, just a few,” Wilcox said in a New York Times documentary in 2014. “It’s sad. It just sounds weird that I’m the last one and, I don’t know, it’s just – it’s just going to go away one of these days maybe, I don’t know. It could go on and on.

She is survived by two daughters and dozens of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. One of the younger ones already understands a number of Wukchumni words, Malone said.


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