Maymi Preston-Donahue, Karuk Language Learner: Promoting Native Languages Into the Future


Maymi Preston-Donahue



Community (affiliation):

Karuk, Yurok, Paiute, Pittriver

About this story: Ayukii, My name is Maymi Preston-Donahue and I am Karuk, Yurok, Paiute, and Pittriver from Northern California. I was nominated by Lulu Alexander. I am a Karuk language learner. I have been pursuing learning the Karuk language for 7 years now under Master apprentice Julian Lang. Our language is very near extinction with less than a dozen fluent speakers, even though we are one of the largest tribes in California. I have been advocating for a strong language effort within our tribal communities for a while now.

Watch a video and read more about Maymi’s story:

I was inspired by other language programs and speakers to make a social media page Ararahih KarukLanguage for speakers and other learners to share resources to the community, to share daily words and promote our traditions as normal and good, and to promote paying and training teachers in the language as well as making our language mainstream in the local schools and tribal government. I also address overcoming the feelings of shame surrounding the language, maybe because we don’t know it well or because we were taught to not love our heritage.

I struggle to make learning my Native language a priority in my own life for my own children through many barriers, and supporting yourself by teaching your language is akin to being a martyr.

I wanted to normalize being Karuk. I played around with this idea for awhile, but when the pandemic hit, it seemed like the time was ripe. Here we were, more disconnected than ever from our people. With more time than ever to take a breathe from the push and grind of daily struggle under colonization to take a moment to see the reality of the language and our Karuk way of life and values. To see it’s worth and hear its beauty.

The take away is to not let not learning our languages or having access to an elder or a class be an issue. We are alive, we are modern and growing and thriving from colonization.…and our language can grow with us.