Breath of Life Conference Helps Tubatulabal Start Revitalizing Language

Four members of the Tubatulabal tribe of California (Louise Miranda-Akers, Sherry Click, Betsy Johnson, and Donna Miranda-Begay) were given $12,100 by the Tule River Indian Reservation for airfare and hotel stay which allowed them to attend the Breath of Life Conference in Washington D.C., where they found research vital to helping them understand their history and revitalize their language.

Begay and Johnson found 1935 recordings of Steban Miranda, Donna’s great-grandfather, as well as documents by C Hart Merriam, a biologist who garnered interest in the California tribes on behalf of Smithsonian.

Merriam came to the Kern Valley in 1902 and started working with Tubatulabal, then returned in 1935. Merriam had a standard word list, akin to a rosetta stone of the three factions of the Tubatulabal language: Bakalanchi, Pakanapul, Palegawan, thus reinforcing Begay and Johnson’s theories about their tribal dialects. “It confirmed our beliefs about ourselves and there were tears of joy,” said Begay.

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