The Last Fluent Speaker of the Wukchumni Language?

Posted By Toyacoyah Brown August 24th, 2014 Last Updated on: August 24th, 2014

In this touching documentary, filmmaker Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee tells the story of Marie Wilcox, the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language, and the dictionary she has created.

Vaughan-Lee writes:

I met her through the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival, an organization that encourages the revival of languages like Wukchumni. Through training and mentorship, it has supported Ms. Wilcox’s work for several years. Ms. Wilcox’s tribe, the Wukchumni, is not recognized by the federal government. It is part of the broader Yokuts tribal group native to Central California. Before European contact, as many as 50,000 Yokuts lived in the region, but those numbers have steadily diminished. Today, it is estimated that fewer than 200 Wukchumni remain.

Marie Wilcox is an amazing woman! With all her hard work and dedication I hope many generations to come will be able to learn the language from her dictionary.

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About Toyacoyah Brown

Toyacoyah Brown is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation, currently living in Chicago. She received her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an M.A. in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. When she's not scouring the Internet for fun things to share with PowWows.com readers you can find her digging for vinyl in her local record store or curling up with a good book.

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Carel Two-Eagle

For over 30 years, before the advent of recording ability in phones, i bought an unknown number of cheap tape recorders & a box of cheap tapes & mailed them with a note to every tribe I learned of that was trying to save its language, while the US government tried to stop us from doing it. I call it being a guerilla Native language preserver. I didn’t keep count of how many this was, but “dozens”, for sure. It was well worth it.
The note always said, “Here is something to help you save your language. Get your fluent speakers together every day you can, provide them with a pot of coffee, some tea, some food, and get them to speak in your language in the morning; then afternoons, get them to translate what they said in the morning. Languages die if they are not spoken – no one can learn them later. I’m D/Lakota & was blessed with elders who spoke our language, so I learned. Blessings!” Some I signed & included an address, some I didn’t – I never heard back from any of them, but it didn’t matter – every so often, I would find some evidence that my gift had worked. There are fewer greater good feelings I’ve had than knowing I helped save some of our languages.


Has anyone approached her about Duolingo? She could set up lessons there and anyone could take them. I’m sure there must be a few of her students that would be willing to help.

Lisa Sutherland-Fraser

Such a lovely piece. So uplifted seeing Marie do this work of love for her language. So glad her great grandson has learned the language. There is hope!


It’s beautiful to hear her speak her language I wish I knew my language of my people,my people are Promo,Miwok and Midew

Albert Nungaray

If I could get in contact with them, I would GLADLY dedicate whatever time and energy they need to help save the language. Learning it myself be a blessing!

Kevin Burgess

lovely sounding language. Where can we download, or otherwise purchase a copy of the Dictionary.

Does Marie or her grandson post the audio online?

Learning a language can be fun, and is wonderful for improving memory and intelligence for anyone, especially the young. If there was an online source where we can start learning vocabulary, and hearing Marie’s voice, it would be very helpful.

Jake Stephens

A very heartfelt article which drew my attention. It’s sad that an Indian language is disappearing, but at the same moment it is revealing knowing that people are keeping the language alive through dialogue and a dictionary. I wish the Wukchumni people the best. I would like to receive information on how to acquire the Wukchumni dictionary, if this is possible. Thank you for this article about life of the People and may you have a good fortune.
Jake Stephens

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