Meet Marie Wilcox, an 81-year-old great-grandmother and the last fluent speaker of the Wukchumni language. The Wukchumni are believed to have numbered 50,000 before colonizer contact, but there are now only 200 people left living in the San Joaquin Valley of California. Their language has been slowly dying out with the generations, but Marie has taken it upon herself to revive it, learning to use a computer so that she could begin writing the first ever Wukchumni dictionary. The process took her seven years, and now that she’s done she’s not stopping her work to document her native tongue.
This short documentary film from the Global Oneness Project gives a peak into Marie’s motivation, and the work it takes to bring back and record a language that has been almost erased by colonization, institutional racism, and oppression.
In it, Marie shares some of her doubts about the massive undertaking she has tackled: “I’m uncertain about my language, and who wants to keep it alive. No one seems to want to learn. It seems weird that I am the last one… It’ll just be gone one of these days, I dunno.”
But with luck, that day won’t come for a while. Marie and her daughter Jennifer are now teaching classes to members of their tribe, and working on an audio dictionary to accompany the written one she already created.