Watch this short film from our partner, the Global Oneness Project, and try the instructional ideas. Full lesson plans, in both English and Spanish, are also available.
“Marie’s Dictionary” tells the story of Marie Wilcox, a Native American woman who is the last fluent speaker of Wukchumni, and a dictionary she created that documents the language. The Wukchumni tribe is part of the broader Yokuts tribal group native to Central California; the tribe has yet to be recognized by the federal government.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that half of the 7,000 living languages spoken today will disappear if nothing is done to preserve them. In the United States, many Native American languages are struggling to survive—more than 130 of these languages are currently at risk, with 74 languages considered "critically endangered," according to UNESCO. Each of these endangered languages preserves priceless cultural heritage.
Preserving the Wukchumni language has become Marie Wilcox's life. She has spent more than seven years working on the dictionary. The language is now being taught to tribe members at a local career center, yet the language still struggles to gain traction and move beyond an elementary level. Through her hard work, Marie hopes that her dictionary will support the revitalization of the Wukchumni language for future generations.
Instructional Ideas
Consult Common Core English Language Arts. Speaking and Listening 9-10.1 and 11-12.1. Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 [or 11-12] topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
• "In America, there are many cultures, like the Wukchumni, whose stories, histories and families are connected through that language,"  filmmaker Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee said. As these languages become extinct, people can lose these connections. Why do you think it is important to preserve languages? What connections do you think could be lost when a language, like Wukchumni, goes extinct? 
Consult College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies. D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context.
• A historical and cultural museum is creating an exhibit called "Vanishing Languages." If you had to convince the museum to feature the Wukchumni language as part of its exhibit, what would you include in your proposal? Why do you think her work should be recognized in the museum? How might Marie's actions impact the future of the Wukchumni language? How could her actions provide a historical context of her people?
Consult Next Generation Science Standards. HS-LS2-8. Evaluate the evidence for the role of group behavior and individual and species' chances to survive and reproduce.
• In the film, we see how Donovan is learning and embracing the Wukchumni language by speaking with his great-grandmother, Marie. How can youth become active participants in preserving endangered languages? In New Zealand, Maori speakers created “language nests” where grandparents would teach toddlers in their native tongue. In Australia, the dying Kamilaroi language was used in a pop song that teenagers loved. What could be another innovative solution?
  • Most Wukchumni speakers live on the Tule River Reservation in Tulare County, California, established in 1873. Other bands inhabiting the Tule River Reservation include the Mono and Tübatulabal.
  • Wukchumni, like all Yokuts languages, belongs to the larger Penutian language family of the North American West Coast. Other bands speaking Penutian languages include the Chinook of Washington and Oregon, and the Tsimshian of British Columbia. 
  • The Wukchumni are part of the Yokuts group of Native Americans indigenous to Central California. Today, there are about 200 Wukchumni in California.
cultural heritage

traditions and customs of a specific population.

endangered language
language that is at risk of falling out of practical use as its speakers die or shift to speaking another language.

to guess based on knowledge of the situation or object.


having to do with a nation's government (as opposed to local or regional government).


able to speak, write, and understand a language.

Native American

person whose ancestors were native inhabitants of North or South America. Native American usually does not include Eskimo or Hawaiian people.


the grip between an object and the surface on which it moves.

tribal group

group of several clans or families sharing a common culture.


the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.