Framework

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Mike Carlson, 19, teaches preschool-age children Yurok words at the Klamath Family Head Start program. The Yurok tribal language revitalization program has developed curricula for all ages.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Del Norte High School student Chuski Scott holds up Yurok language flash cards in a class taught by Barbara McQuillen.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Archie Thompson, 93, is a Yurok tribal elder and one of the last remaining native speakers. "They didn't want Indian language spoken," Thompson said of the boarding school he attended as a young boy. "You couldn't do your own culture."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Jim McQuillen, education director of the Yurok tribe, visits tribal elder Archie Thompson, 93. McQuillen, who oversees the program to revive the Yurok language, has learned a great deal from elders like Thompson.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O'Rourke talks about his tribe's cultural history. O'Rourke is supportive of the tribe's efforts to teach its native language.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Carole Lewis teaches Yurok to students at Eureka High School, which last fall became the fifth and largest school in Northern California to launch a Yurok-language program.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Del Norte High students Kara Scott, left, Sasha Mitchell and Sativa Wilson listen as Barbara McQuillen teaches Yurok. At one time academics predicted that the Yurok language would soon be extinct. Thanks in part to classes like this one, at last count there were more than 300 basic Yurok speakers.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

The Klamath River flows into the Pacific Ocean. The Yurok people have lived along the banks of the Klamath for centuries.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

A light dusting of snow covers a traditional Yurok house in the Klamath River area of Northern California.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Jim McQuillen stands inside a traditional Yurok house as he gives a tour around tribal areas along the Northern California coast.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

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Reviving the Yurok language

By Lee Romney

EUREKA, Calif. — Carole Lewis throws herself into her work as if something big was at stake.

“Pa’-ah,” she tells her Eureka High School class, gesturing at a bottle of water. She whips around and doodles a crooked little fish on the blackboard, hinting at the dip she’s prepared with “ney-puy” — salmon, key to the diet of California’s largest Native American tribe.

For thousands of years before Western settlers arrived, the Yurok thrived in dozens of villages along the Klamath River. By the 1990s, however, academics had predicted their language soon would be extinct. As elders passed away, the number of native speakers dropped to six.

But tribal leaders would not let the language die.

Last fall, Eureka High became the fifth and largest school in Northern California to launch a Yurok-language program, marking the latest victory in a Native language revitalization program widely lauded as the most successful in the state.

At last count, there were more than 300 basic Yurok speakers, 60 with intermediate skills, 37 who are advanced and 17 who are considered conversationally fluent.

Read story: Revival of nearly extinct Yurok language is a success story

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