Museum exhibit offers visitors chance to learn Ohlone dialect

Richmond museum

By Kathy Chouteau

The Richmond Museum of History and Culture has announced its newest interactive exhibit offers Bay Area residents the chance to learn to speak Chochenyo—one of eight language dialects of the East Bay Ohlone people—while also discovering more about this Native American culture.

The new display is the brainchild of museum Director Melinda McCrary, who spent half a decade working with an advisory group of Bay Area Native people to develop an interactive exhibit that introduces Chochenyo, a dialect of the East Bay Ohlones, stated the museum. Richmond web designer Kimberley Paternoster built the software and Native American artist Beatrice Oregel created the display’s drawings and artwork.

“The Native American Advisory Council consists of Ohlone people from all over the Bay Area,” said McCrary about the exhibit. “With a grant from the California Humanities Council, the Museum was able to create a kiosk with a 55” touchscreen monitor where visitors can read and hear Chochenyo spoken by Ohlone language specialist Deja Gould.”

According to the museum, Gould started learning the Chochenyo language via notes her great-great-grandfather Jose Guzman—the last native speaker of the dialect—left at the Alisal Rancheria in Pleasanton. Her mother, Corrina, is also the tribal chairperson of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan based in Oakland.

“My children and my tribe are once again learning our language,” said Gould, who added that the new exhibit at the museum will allow the ancient language to be heard by a much larger audience.

In addition to the language kiosk, the museum has Ohlone artifacts and has started planting a garden with 19 plants the Ohlone grew, said the museum. Gould will speak the names of the vegetation and visitors will be able to view them on the museum’s grounds.

Future plans, said the museum, include having a native speaker such as Gould record Ohlone stories that tie-in to the local landscape of the East Bay.

The Richmond Museum of History and Culture is located at 400 Nevin Ave. in Richmond. Learn more about the museum here.