Our Chochenyo Language Awakens
To honor the land we need our songs; to sing our songs we need our language.
An essential part of our work of rematriation is regenerating and returning to the cultural knowledges and practices that were lost in colonization. We are revitalizing the rich cultural and spiritual traditions of our ancestors through our projects and everyday practices.
Mak Noono Tiirinikma, our language awakens in Chochenyo, is a multi-generational language and cultural revitalization project that breathes new life into Chochenyo. Led by Deja Gould, a Chochenyo language holder and tribal member of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, the program includes language instruction that combines tribal cultural knowledge and primary sources with modern tools such as a Chochenyo dictionary smartphone app and websites such as acorn.wiki. The project also includes field trips with guest master teachers who lead experiential training of specific Ohlone cultural practices such as tule gathering and weaving to embed the language learning in action.
The Chochenyo Ohlone language has been on the brink of disappearance for decades. José Guzmán, Deja Gould’s great great grandfather, was the last living fluent Chochenyo language speaker. He was recorded speaking and singing on wax cylinders by UC Berkeley anthropologist JP Harrington during the 1920’s. For the last 3 generations Chochenyo has been all but lost, without any fluent speakers. But a century after Guzmán documented his people’s language, these precious ancestral recordings are providing rich nourishment for the culture to awaken. Mak Noono Tiirinikma offers more than just learning words and grammar; it encompasses a way of understanding our world and connecting with each other, our culture, and our ancestral way of life.
“The first thing I envision doing is creating a space where Ohlone people can come together. We can revitalize language and song and dance and ceremony. We can talk about ways of looking at the Bay Area in a different way, and really doing what our ancestors had originally taught us to do: take care of the land. And how do we do that in an urban environment, with cities built up all around us? How do we stay true to those original teachings? How do we then pass that on to our kids? It’s about the survival of our culture and who we are as Ohlone people. In every other way we have been erased, and that can’t continue to happen. Our generation has to make this leap.”Corrina Gould, Spokesperson of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan