Indigenous Scholar Champions Mission to Revive Near-Extinct Ancestral Language


Determined to halt the impending extinction of her ancestral language – Numu Yadooana, Northern Paiute, Christina Dawa Kutsmana Thomas has launched her dedicated mission. With a mere octet of elderly, fluent speakers residing in her Nevada reservation, her quest is challenged as Northern Paiute dialect teeters on the precipice of oblivion.

Faced with substantial pressure, Thomas conveys a strong sense of responsibility and urgency to counter the devastating effects of modern assimilation which have led to the language’s abandonment, “Without action, who will prevent this loss? The stark reality is that very few members of our tribe still converse in our ancient language.”

The enormity of this task is amplified by the diversity within Indigenous tribes in America, each with its unique language, culture, and history, 574 in total. It’s a massive hurdle to a joint language revival. Nevertheless, Thomas is relentless, determined to understand and perhaps emulate ways other nations are reviving their native languages.

For the past eight months, as a US Fullbright Scholar, she has been on a learning expedition in New Zealand. She has assimilated herself into the Kiwi education system, observing how the native Maori language is being nurtured back to life.

Contrasting it with the plight of Indigenous languages back home, Thomas feels that her people struggle with a lack of time, resources and proper educational framework for learning, the Paiute language.

In the refreshed air of Aotearoa, Thomas attests that there’s a reassurance to witness the warm embrace of the Maori language and its culture, “This inspiring environment gives me the confidence that our language can also be resurrected.”

Thomas, a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation in Wadsworth, Nevada, reminisces about her childhood, where the use of indigenous language was sadly discouraged at home. “It was cultural self-effacement for survival’s sake. We were gradually made to feel that blending in and speaking the dominant language would shield us from painful bigotry and derision. Consequently, our native language was gradually silenced.”

Her interest in her native language, however, was rekindled during her early twenties at the University of Nevada. An elderly member of her tribe, conducting Paiute language classes, triggered a newfound passion in her. From then on, she became a fervent champion for her native language, teaching in high schools, acting as a language consultant and an instructor for her tribe, with one of her significant accomplishments being the introduction of Paiute language as a course in her Alma Mater.

Over the last decade, in line with her language advocacy, she has also been engaged in several Native arts and revitalization initiatives. What started as a dentistry study plan has now transformed into a journey to earn a PhD in Native American Studies at the University of California in the city of Davis.

Having spent considerable time in New Zealand researching Maori language rejuvenation efforts and presenting her findings in various conferences, she hopes to translate these learning experiences into tangible actions back home.

As she looks forward to flying home at the month’s end, Thomas expresses her admiration for New Zealand’s exemplary efforts to resurrect the Maori language, “New Zealand has set a commendable standard in indigenous language revitalization, and it provides me the inspiration to strive for something similar in my community.”

Thomas aims at launching a learning center akin to the kohanga reo in her community after earning her PhD. Throughout her journey in New Zealand, Thomas has brought her seven-year-old son, Jace Naki’e, along on this humbling voyage of discovery, sharing, and exchange of cultures.

Their shared experience, an invaluable treasure in their lives, is neatly summed up in Thomas’s words, “It’s a beautiful testament to the trans-indigenous connection. It’s a living reminder of our roots intertwined in songs, stories, and beliefs that are remarkably similar amongst all indigenous people”.


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