In Winter 2019, UC Riverside offered CAH001, an introductory course to the Cahuilla language, a local Native American tribal language. UCR became the first UC to offer an Indigenous language series that fulfills graduation language requirements to all students. This series is especially important because UC Riverside is situated on the traditional lands of the Cahuilla people.
Cahuilla consists of three dialects that all differ slightly from each other, including Mountain Cahuilla, Pass Cahuilla, and Desert Cahuilla. Language revitalization is now becoming a common response for tribes all over California in order to reverse language shift.
“This class is one of the keys to the success of Native students in the UCs,” said William Madrigal, Jr., a graduate student in the Department of Ethnic Studies. He is of Cahuilla and Luiseño descent and grew up on Cahuilla Reservation in a culturally involved household. As a child, Madrigal learned Mountain Cahuilla and he and his father traveled to different reservations teaching the Cahuilla language to tribal community members.
The idea of creating an Indigenous language series had been discussed for years by UCR’s Native American community, but Professor Madrigal began to push the idea more seriously to the Chancellor’s Native Advisory Council, he said. In 2017, Madrigal’s efforts caught the attention of Mariam Lam, Associate Vice Chancellor & Chief Diversity Officer, who organized meetings with key faculty and Cahuilla community members to conceptualize and create the Cahuilla Language Series that would consist of four courses.
The Cahuilla series is open to all students interested in learning not only the language, but also about the culture and history of the local Cahuilla people. Madrigal teaches the first three courses: CAH 001, 002, 003, consecutively. The fourth, CAH 004 is taught by Ray Huaute, a community member of Cahuilla and Chumash descent and a PhD student in the Linguistics Department at UC San Diego. Huaute helped create the series because he had already created one of the first full local curriculums for Cahuilla.
“I learned about how language is such a vital part in any culture, especially Cahuilla, because it teaches Cahuilla world-view, and that helps with learning traditional songs, games, about the environment, and connects us more with the earth,” said Mallory Marcus, a fourth-year business major and Cahuilla Native. Marcus completed the Cahuilla Language series at UCR in Winter 2020. “We live in an age where we are not connected with nature, so bringing back our roots and traditions can help reignite it,” she said.
“It made me feel empowered as a Native scholar,” said Madison Garcia, a third-year UCR history major who is Kumeyaay Native and has completed all four courses in the Cahuilla series. “My favorite immersion experiences were when we got to play 21 and when we took the roles of animals,” Garcia said when describing the language immersion games. Students also participated in non-traditional games such as Uno and 21 using the Cahuilla language.
For more information about the Cahuilla language series, contact William Madrigal at firstname.lastname@example.org.