Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 20 Number 1
October 1980


Teresa L. McCarty

THE Yavapai Indians were originally hunters and gatherers who occupied some 20,000 square miles of west-central Arizona. They are linguistically and culturally related to the Mohave, Havasupai, Hualapai and other Yuman speakers. The Yavapai were contacted by Anglo-Europeans at a relatively late date (ca. 1860), and so have undergone considerable social change in a fairly short span of time. Today, they are known as "Yavapai-Apache." Their land holdings have been reduced to less than 30,000 acres, and the tribe has been dispersed to reservations at Fort McDowell, Camp Verde, Middle Verde, Prescott and Payson (see Map 1). The aboriginal population of nearly 4,000 has dwindled to 1,000. Many of these individuals no longer speak the Yavapai language, and cultural traditions such as basket weaving are rapidly disappearing in the younger generations.

These facts are disturbing to many Yavapai-Apache. At Fort McDowell, where 56% of the population of 360 is under the age of 25, education and rejuvenation of the native language and culture are special concerns. To formulate a curriculum which might meet these needs, it is necessary to determine the present status of language use among children in this community.

The analysis presented here is based on observations, made by the author as a member of the Fort McDowell Johnson-OíMalley (JOM) staff during the 1977-78 school year, of 20 Yavapai-Apache junior high school students. They attended a predominantly white, English-speaking public high school in Mesa, Arizona. It is hoped that the data and recommendations presented here can be used to inform other public school programs where the ratio of minority to majority pupils is extremely low.

The Fort McDowell Community and the School

The Fort McDowell Indian Reservation is located in Maricopa County, Arizona, about 23 miles northeast of the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. The reservation spans nearly 25,000 acres of river bottom land and Sonoran desert hills. It was established in 1903 as a reservation for the Yavapai, Apache and Mohave Indians who were being returned from a 25-year internment at the San Carlos Apache Reservation. A day school was constructed on the reservation to train children and young adults in manual and home arts, and in agriculture. This school has been closed since 1956, and now elementary and secondary school children are bused each day to public schools. Most attend school in Mesa, although some older students attend BIA-operated boarding schools in Phoenix, California, and Nevada. The observations reported here pertain only to students at one Mesa school. The observations reported here pertain only to students at one Mesa school.

The school attended by Fort McDowell students in grades 7 through 9 is about 30 miles equidistant from the Phoenix city limits and the reservation. The school has about 1,100 students; of these, fewer than 300 are non-Anglo. This includes approximately 250 Mexican-American, 35 Native American and five Oriental students. Most of the Native American children live at Fort McDowell, but some come from the Salt River Pima Reservation, a Maricopa community in Lehi, or urban areas of East Mesa (see Map 2).

The children from Fort McDowell do not share many classes. They say they have few non-Indian friends at school, and while some participate in sports and other extracurricular activities, they state a preference for "hanging around with our own kids." Consequently most interaction is limited to the confines of this group. In the past these students participated in a school-organized Indian Club, but this is now defunct because of difficulties in obtaining a teacher-sponsor.

Nature of Language Use at School and Home

These 20 Yavapai-Apache students may be said to constitute a "speech community" within the school. This has been defined by John Gumperz as involving "regular and frequent interaction over a significant span of time and set off from other aggregates in the frequency of interaction." The Fort McDowell pupils, for example, comprise a speech community distinct from that of the Chicano students. Within this speech group, two languages - Yavapai and English - are used during the course of studentsí everyday social exchange. In Gumperzís terms, these languages or linguistic codes constitute a "verbal repertoire" (see Note 1).

All but two of the 20 students learned English as their first language. Yavapai, the language spoken in varying degrees of fluency and frequency by their parents and grandparents, was learned by students as a second language. They rarely use Yavapai in classroom dialogue, but this is probably because they share few classes with their Yavapai-Apache peers.

Nevertheless, some code-switching (communication utilizing more than one linguistic variety) from English to Yavapai does occur within the school setting. Yavapai Apache students tend to switch linguistic codes in the following school-related contexts: (1) name-calling and ridicule, an exchange of derogatory remarks in Yavapai with reference to non-Yavapais; (2) "talking nasty," an exchange of derogatory remarks in Yavapai directed at other Yavapai-Apache students; (3) defiance of authority figures, whispered warnings in Yavapai to fellow Yavapai-Apache students with reference to teachers and administrators; and (4) conscious learning situations in which Fort McDowell students tutor each other and occasionally non-Indian students in the correct pronunciation and meaning of certain Yavapai words.

If a percentage could be formulated of the ratio of studentsí use of English versus use of Yavapai, it would probably be something like nine to one, Yet the 10% frequency of code switching, combined with the fact that Yavapai is often the language used by parents to speak to children in the home (although children tend to respond in English) suggests that the native language is still an important carrier of Yavapai culture.

Much of the function of this code-switching behavior no doubt involves the hidden message of asserting group identity and exclusiveness from non-Indians. While this behavior is infrequent, it nevertheless has significant social consequences, and hence may be used as a pivotal point in the initiation and development of a bilingual-bicultural program for Yavapai-Apache students. Before specifying such a program, however, it is necessary to consider in greater depth the linguistic and sociolinguistic properties involved in the use of the Yavapai "code."

Yavapai Basically an Unwritten Language

Yavapai remains very much an unwritten language. Although linguistic scholars recently have begun to identify and record its phonological, syntactical and semantic components, very few curriculum materials exist in Yavapai. The difficulties of recording the language are complicated by the fact that at least three major dialects can be recognized, corresponding to three aboriginal sub-tribal divisions. The JOM staff at Fort McDowell is currently investigating curriculum development possibilities, but has only begun its efforts by sponsoring staff participation in local and regional language and culture workshops, and "culture days" focusing on the Yavapai.

Fort McDowell students say their native (i.e. Yavapai) tongue is "backwards" compared to English:

Our language is kind of backwards like. When you say something in our language, you have to translate it backwards. You know, the main parts first.

Another pupil states:

Iím thinking white instead of Yavapai. Yavapai is more like Spanish. In English we say, ĎWhere are you going?" In Yavapai, itís "Where going .... you?" Trying to translate from English to Yavapai is hard.

Despite these difficulties and the fact that no standard orthography has been accepted by the tribe, it is evident from studentsí statements that they regard the ability to speak Yavapai as an important and integral part of their heritage (e.g., they speak of Yavapai as "our own language"). Yet they say they can only speak "a few words," and that "the rest isnít needed." It appears that these children have a degree of linguistic competency in Yavapai, but due to lack of opportunities for using and practicing the language -particularly at school where they spend the greater part of their day - they have not developed performance skills (see Note 4). One young girl explains this situation eloquently:

This comes from a long time ago. When our parents and grandparents were small, when they made them go to school, they made them stop speaking our language. When we were little, our parents just spoke English (to us). We came to white manís school too, and they just start speaking to you in English from the time you are born. You just learn it. But the elders would speak a little bit of Yavapai too. We understand it, but we just canít speak it like them.

Intermarriage with members of other tribes also has served to enhance the acquisition of English at the expense of Yavapai. In situations of intermarriage, English may be the common language of the parents, and thus the language used most at home. This fact, coupled with the fact that children attend predominantly white, English-speaking public schools, cripples the childís chances of acquiring full competence in Yavapai. A former JOM aide from the Fort McDowell community sums up the situation thusly:

Children are not encouraged to speak Yavapai. It is easier to speak English. Children are transferred to public schools early, and they are ashamed to talk their language, and embarrassed. Teachers do not expect them to speak in Yavapai. Also, there is a lot of intermarriage with other tribes, and parents find it easier to speak English too. So children grow up hearing mostly English, although sometimes the grandparents try to teach them their own language. In Yavapai, they get stuck, because they canít think of a word they want to use.

Issues in Planning and Implementing a Bilingual-Bicultural Curriculum

Two important points emerge from the foregoing discussion. First, the traditions embodied in the Yavapai language are still a vital concern to members of the Fort McDowell community. Although competence and performance skills are fading in childrenís language use patterns, both adults and children recognize the importance of maintaining their ethnic identity through language.

This is implicit in studentsí and aidesí statements referring to Yavapai as "our own language," and explicit in the tribeís participation in Yavapai language and culture workshops.

The social context surrounding the small amount of code-switching which occurs in the school indicates that by using the Yavapai language, students publicly announce their Indian identity, and the fact that their strongest ties are to the Indian, rather than the white, English-speaking community. That they communicate in this code infrequently - and in so doing, make use of a language which is difficult for them -serves to emphasize rather than diminish the importance of the social ties reflected in the language. It is also important to note that one of the four social contexts for code-switching is a situation described here as "conscious learning," in which students actively tutor one another in Yavapai.

The second point which emerges relates to the significant role played by other Indian cultures (primarily Apache and Pima) in shaping the recent culture history of the Yavapai. Interference by the federal government through forced relocation campaigns has led to a great deal of intermarriage with other tribes and consequently, to some "cultural mixing."í The crucial ties of birth and marriage in Yavapai society now involve the traditions of non-Yavapai ancestors.

The Model Curriculum

Any bilingual-bicultural model for curriculum, then, must inevitably resolve the two seemingly contradictory issues of (1) the continuing vitality of the Yavapai heritage contained in the native language, and (2) the influence of other Indian and non-Indian cultures on the contemporary Fort McDowell community. Following is a curriculum model which emphasizes the culture and history of the Yavapai both before and after Anglo-European contact, including those traditions acquired by contact and intermarriage with other tribes. Because most Fort McDowell residents identify themselves as Yavapai, and because Yavapai is the language spoken most frequently other than English in the home, this language is woven into the curriculum design as well.

This model is based on two assumptions: that minority children, regardless of their numbers within the total school population, deserve the opportunity to become fluent in their native language and culture, and that a culturally pluralistic curriculum can benefit all students. The noted linguist, Joshua Fishman, describes such a model as one which is "good for" minority and majority students alike .6 Hence, the structure of this particular model is narrow enough to meet the needs of 20 Yavapai-Apache students, yet broad enough to accommodate and stimulate the interests of the remaining 1,080 students at the school.

In planning a bilingual-bicultural program of this sort, it is first necessary to determine the perceived needs and attitudes toward such a program which are held by members of the reservation and school communities. A socio-linguistic survey similar to the one described by Ray Castro for his "monolingual community" model of bilingualism would be appropriate for the case presented here (see Note 7). This survey would be initiated by the education staff employed by the affected tribe(s) and/or school district, with its purpose being to pinpoint ethnic and speech communities that might eventually be incorporated into the program. The survey would further indicate how these various community interests interface with one another.

Teamwork Between Education Specialists and Community School Board

Castro suggests that the end product of this research would be the creation of a team of individuals representing various community interests. In this case, such a team might be composed of individuals from the Fort McDowell, Salt River, Lehi and East Mesa areas, and it is foreseeable that various other community interest groups might be targeted by a survey. This team would then meet with the school board or appropriate educational specialists to plan and design a bilingual-bicultural, or multicultural educational package. The incipient relationship between the school board and Indian parents can become a foundation for pooling mutual resources and services in the development of curricula.

Upon this foundation, the second stage of planning involves the actual development of curriculum materials. Again, parents from the target Indian community (ies) should be recruited as primary resources in curriculum content and design. Anthropological linguists and curriculum specialists from nearby universities and Indian communities can be enlisted to work with local resource people in transforming oral material into usable classroom curricula. In addition to the development of Yavapai-Apache materials, the sociolinguistic survey conducted earlier may indicate other foci for curriculum development, which reflect local interests. Indeed, it is quite likely that some materials may already exist which could be readily introduced into the project proposed here.

Planning gives direction for specifying a curriculum model. Here, a model which aims at language and culture maintenance (for Yavapai-Apache students) and language and culture pluralism (for all students) is appropriate. Fig. 1 illustrates the type of program which is envisioned to realize these goals. The design is divided along the lines of language and culture. Two linguistic components involve formal instruction in Yavapai and/or other Indian languages pinpointed by the initial survey, combined with instruction in selected subjects (e.g., Yavapai history, Arizona history) in the target language(s) While this aspect of the program is expected to attract primarily Indian pupils, it is by no means restricted only to them. The Yavapai language, for example, may be used to replace or be added to the overall school curriculum as a second language option. Clearly this would benefit Yavapai-Apache students, who would be able to reinforce their linguistic skills both at home and at school, and who would learn to take pride in attaining the same level of performance in Yavapai as is expected in English. But as a second language option, Yavapai can also provide a very different linguistic variety which would benefit all students interested in the comparative study of language.

The cultural components of the model are easily integrated throughout the high school curriculum, and have greater potential for attracting a large number of students. Selected aspects of Yavapai and/or Indian culture may be used as topical "mini-courses" in numerous established curriculum areas. For instance, a four- to six-week course on "Arizona Indian Communities" may be included as part of the current social studies program. A similar course on "Yavapai Culture History" would increase studentsí knowledge of Arizona history, and perhaps revitalize the present required course in this subject. Such a course has almost unlimited possibilities for making use of the many human and material resources available from the Indian community. Moreover, if local resource people are used in a team-teaching effort with classroom teachers, the "mini-course" approach does not require major retraining by school personnel.

A myriad of other potential "mini-courses" is immediately suggested. Issues surrounding the land and water rights disputes of Arizona Indian tribes affect all Arizona residents, and therefore become a worthwhile part of the social studies or political science program. A short course in "Indian Medicine and Curing" may fill a void in the study of natural sciences by demonstrating the utility and validity of non-Western approaches to medicine and science. Similarly, "Indian Folklore" would add a unique dimension to the required courses in language and literature. The study of Indian art - including music, dance, literature and the arts and crafts - is another topical area which is particularly adaptable to established courses of study and amenable to the participation of community members in program staffing.


The goals of the educational program outlined here are to revitalize and maintain Yavapai language and culture for Yavapai-Apache students, and to provide a relevant, cross-cultural education for non-Yavapai pupils. It has been suggested that these goals can be realized by utilizing a curriculum model which combines formal instruction in the native language with instruction in English in topics related to Indian peoples and societies in general. The strength of this model lies in the involvement of community members from all segments of the area served by the school.

The burden of financing a bilingual-bicultural program in this situation might be borne by federal and/or state funded programs (JOM, Title IV) from each community sector, as well as by local revenues generated by the school district. Much of the expense of teacher training and curriculum development can be reduced by utilizing a team-teaching approach (Indian parents/classroom teachers), in combination with in-service workshops aimed at assisting classroom teachers in acquiring greater knowledge of local and pan-Indian cultures. In light of the depressing statistics showing the high rate of academic failure for Indian pupils in public schools, it seems worthwhile to reiterate Castroís exhortation that "whatever the cost," it is still much less than the cost of doing nothing (see Note 8).

While the model formulated here pertains to a particular school and student body, its basic features are adaptable to a wide range of educational contexts. The general attraction of this design is its ability to generate a course of study which can meet the needs of - be "good for" - minority and majority students alike, regardless of their numerical ratio within a school population, and which can simultaneously be attached to existing curriculum programs in the school.


1. Gumperz, John J. "Linguistic and Social Interaction in Two Communities. "In Language, Culture and Society, ed. by B.G. Blount. Cambridge: Winthrop Publishers (1974). pp. 250-266.

2. Kendall, Martha. "Relative Clause Formation and Topicalization in Yavapai." International Journal of American Linguistics 41, No. 2 (1974), pp. 89- 10 1.

3. Kendall, Martha. "The /-k/, /-m/ Problem in Yavapai Syntax." International Journal of American Linguistics 41, No. 1 (1975), pp. 1-9.

4. Hymes. Dell. "On Linguistic Theory, Communicative Competence and the Education of Disadvantaged Children." In Anthropological Perspectives in Education, ed. by M. Wax, S. Diamond and F. Gearing, pp. 51-66. New York: Basic Books (1971).

5. E.W. Gifford, in his ethnographies of the Southeastern, Northeastern and Western Yavapai, indicates that intermarriage with Apaches occurred prior to Anglo-European contact as well. The frequency of Yavapai-Apache marriages rose most dramatically, however, during the 25 years of internment at San Carlos. For further information, see E.W. Gifford, The Southeastern Yavapai, University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 29 (1932), and The Northeastern and Western Yavapai, University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. 34 (1936).

6. Fishman, Joshua. Bilingual Education: An International Sociological Perspective. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House Publishers (1976).

7. Castro, Ray. "Shifting the Burden of Bilingualism: The Case for Monolingual Communities." Bilingual Review III (Jan.-April 1976), pp. 3-28.

8. Ibid. p. 17.

Teresa McCarty is a teaching associate and doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology, Arizona State University. The author would like to thank Susanne Shafer, Michelle Behr, Jim McCarty, Betsy Brandt, John Martin and Rachel Hultz, who commented on an earlier draft of this paper. The opportunity to conduct this research was provided in part by the Fort McDowell JOM Program and the E. Blois du Bois Foundation. Finally, thanks to Leticia Osife, Beverly Baptisto, Betty Hosay and Karen Smith of the Fort McDowell JOM staff, and to the 20 students whose assistance and cooperation made this report possible.


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