Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana Publish Textbook to Aid in Language Revitalization Efforts
Textbook includes Tunica history, letters, greetings and more in an effort to teach generations of tribal citizens their native language
Marksville, La. – The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana is pleased to announce that a Tunica Language Textbook – the first Tunica grammar book of its kind – was published this spring in advance of the annual Language and Culture Youth Camp hosted by the Tribe on June 12 through 15.
The Tunica-Biloxi Education Department, and its sub-program, the Language & Culture Revitalization Program (LCRP), are dedicated to preparing future generations of Tribal citizens to lead successful, fulfilling lives and to have a deep understanding of their culture. LCRP has brought the language back to life through recordings, text, language classes, workshops and summer camps. In recent years, the program was awarded a grant from the Administration for Native Americans, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, to expand these efforts. Due to the hard work and dedication of the Tunica-Biloxi Language and Culture Revitalization Program (LCRP) team, there are now over 50 active speakers of the Tunica language and in-house linguists who teach the language and work to expand the program.
“With the LCRP summer Language and Culture Youth Camp approaching, the launch of the Tunica language textbook couldn’t have come at a more perfect time,” said Elisabeth Pierite Mora, LCRP Language & Cultural Lifeways Instructor. “This educational text is an extensive body of work – comprised of information from the many documents and recordings of a native speaker and former chief Sesostrie Youchigant by linguist Mary Haas – that is the first of its kind in our tribe, and it’s critical to the continuing advancement of our tribe’s revitalization efforts. I look forward to using this book as a guide to teach our tribal youth and keep the Tunica language alive for generations to come.”
In the summer of 1933, linguist Mary Haas began documenting Youchigant’s knowledge of the Tunica language for her doctoral dissertation, and the two continued to work together during the summer of 1938. This dissertation led to Haas publishing a grammar handbook, grammatical sketch, dictionary and books of text, as well as articles assessing the relationships between the Tunica language and other languages of the area. An extensive and comprehensive collection of her work is archived at the American Philosophical Society, and the audio recordings and other papers are archived at the California Language Archive.
The composition of the 2023 textbook began in 2010 and is based on Swiss ethnologist Albert Gatschet’s and American anthropologist John Swanton’s large body of unpublished work in collaboration with native speakers William Ely Johnson and Volsin Chiki – Youchigant’s uncle – archived at the National Anthropological Archives. Gatschet documented Johnson’s knowledge of Tunica, and Swanton documented Tunica between 1907 and 1910 with the assistance of Johnson and Chiki.
“The preservation and revitalization of our language have been on the forefront of our tribal leaders’ minds for generations,” said Marshall Pierite, Chairman of the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe. “In the foreword of the textbook, there’s a letter from my uncle Chief Joseph Alcide Pierite, Sr., to linguist Dr. Mary Haas requesting a copy of her Tunica Dictionary and recordings of the last known fluent speaker and former chief Sesostrie Youchigant, so that the young tribal members could learn their native language and songs. This textbook is the embodiment of Chief Joseph’s dream of revitalizing the Tunica language, and I couldn’t be prouder of all the hard work that has gone into its creation.”
Though records of the Tunica language can be traced back as early as 1886, efforts of reawakening the Tunica language began in 2010 with Kuhpani Yoyani Luhchi Yoroni (KYLY), a working group comprised of Tunica-Biloxi community members and Tulane University linguists, also known as the Tunica Language Project. One of the most remarkable components of this department is the Tribe’s LCRP which successfully revived the Tunica language from “dormant” to “awakened,” a very rare occurrence in the linguistic community.
Each chapter of the textbook is designed to make the Tunica Language accessible for beginners and provides a means for learners to quickly internalize and utilize the language in daily contexts.
The book was made possible with support from the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana and CSBG sub-grant funding through the Institute for Indian Development. The books are being distributed by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana and can also be found in the gift shop at the Tunica-Biloxi Gift Shop in Marksville and online through Amazon.
About the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana
The Tunica-Biloxi people first appeared in the Mississippi Valley. In the late 1700s, they settled near Marksville, where they were skilled traders and entrepreneurs. Today, the Tribe has more than 1,500 members throughout the United States, primarily in Louisiana, Texas and Illinois.
The Tunica-Biloxi Tribe received federal recognition in 1981 for its reservation within the boundaries of Louisiana. The tribe owns and operates the Paragon Casino Resort, the largest employer in Central Louisiana. Through its compact, negotiated by the late Tribal Chairman Earl J. Barbry Sr. and the State of Louisiana, the Tribe has assisted local governments in the area with its quarterly distribution of funds, totaling more than $40 million over two decades. For more information about the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, visit www.tunica.org and “like” us on Facebook.