Skip to comments.Last Native Eyak Speaker Dead at 89
Posted on 01/23/2008 8:48:57 PM PST by forkinsocket
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) Marie Smith Jones, who worked to preserve her heritage as the last full-blooded member of Alaska's Eyak Indians and the last fluent speaker of their native language, has died. She was 89.
Jones died in her sleep Monday at her home in Anchorage. She was found by a friend, said daughter Bernice Galloway, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M.
"To the best of our knowledge she was the last full-blooded Eyak alive," Galloway said Tuesday.
"She was a woman who faced incredible adversity in her life and overcame it," Galloway said. "She was about as tenacious as you can get."
As the last fluent speaker, she worked to preserve the Eyak language, a branch of the Athabaskan Indian family of languages, said Michael Krauss, a linguist and professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who collaborated with her.
She wanted a written record of the language so future generations would have the chance to resurrect it, said Krauss, who directs the university's Alaska Native Language Center.
Jones helped Krauss compile an Eyak dictionary and grammar. Jones, her sister and a cousin told him Eyak tales that were made into a book.
"With her death, the Eyak language becomes extinct," Krauss said. In all, he said, nearly 20 native Alaskan languages are at risk of the same fate. He called them "the intellectual heritage of this part of the world. It is unique to us and if we lose them, we lose what is unique to Alaska."
The Eyak ancestral homeland runs along 300 miles of the Gulf of Alaska from Prince William Sound in south-central Alaska eastward to the town of Yakutat. Jones was born in Cordova in 1918 and grew up on Eyak Lake, where her family had a homestead.
Many of her siblings died young when smallpox and influenza tore through the Eyaks, her daughter said. In 1948, she married William F. Smith, a white Oregon fisherman who met Jones while working his way up the coastline, Galloway said.
The couple had nine children, seven of whom are still alive. None of them learned Eyak because they grew up at a time when it was considered wrong to speak anything but English, Galloway said.
But Galloway said her mother was a traditional Indian in many ways. She was the youngest of her siblings and waited until her last older sibling died in the 1990s before taking on the responsibility that comes with being the oldest child. It was at that time that Jones pursued her interest in preserving the Eyak language and the environment, Galloway said.
"There was a transformation of our mother into a very pro-active, politically active individual," Galloway said.
Jones twice spoke at the United Nations on peace and the importance of indigenous languages, Galloway said.
Krauss described Jones as a "wonderfully ordinary Eyak lady who lived to a ripe old age not because of an easy life but because of a rather hard life, coming up and surviving as an Eyak in the 20th century."
Being the last of her kind for the last 15 years, Krauss said, "was a tragic mantle that (Jones) bore with great dignity, grace and spirit."
I understand the sentiment, but trying to preserve every last language (the vast majority of which had only a comparative handful of speakers to begin with) get to be a bit silly.
I understand that the State of Alaska has had a big thing about trying to teach native children in their own languages as well as english.
With the real-life result that they actually grow up talking like the damn “F-troop” indians. Unable to express themselves properly in either language.
Gvwagati dvgalenisgv, Elogi
Marie Jones jjost bont.
Needahz Alaska gttr 89 blonado.
Um kahdahnik. Ed unje?
So now we’ll never know how to say “snow” in Eyak?
Ooops! “Ed unGe” not “Ed unJe.
Boy is my face red!
If I recall correctly, Apache and Navajo are Athabascan dialects - so the language, per se, isn’t dead.
Reminds me of Bonnie Prince Charlie who could speak English, French and Italian but none of them very well. He supposedly addressed the Scots in a thick Italian brogue.
It sounds like before she died they put together a lexicon, grammar, and some folklore. They probably have audio recordings of her speaking. That’s probably the best you can do for a dying language, short of reviving massive interest in it. The record she helped compile will stand as long as there are linguists to preserve it, and that’s a long time.
I can see keeping the knowledge of old languages alive, but when a languages usefulness has passed there is no reason to keep it "alive" in other than an academic sense.
Thus it has been with hundreds of languages through the centuries.
Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek....that is all I care about.
Quote from the article:
“But Galloway said her mother was a traditional Indian in many ways. She was the youngest of her siblings and waited until her last older sibling died in the 1990s before taking on the responsibility that comes with being the oldest child. It was at that time that Jones pursued her interest in preserving the Eyak language and the environment, Galloway said.”
So the traditions of her people helped make the preservation of her people’s traditions impossible. Lovely, just lovely.
Me understandum you.
Or as a hobby. It stretches your brain to learn new ways to wrap it around ideas. Every time you read the New Testament for the first time, you see something new. The discipline of seeing familiar prose through the lens/filter of a new language uncovers fresh perspectives. It wasn't until last year, for example, that I noticed the role of interior monologues in our Lord's parables. It's almost always the villains of these little stories, or perhaps, the disreputable characters, who talk to themselves. Like the crooked manager in Luke 16, who "said within himself, 'What shall I do? To dig I am not able, and to beg I am ashamed.'"
(Parenthetically, trading language assistance with a foreign student is an excellent, and accessible, missionary project.)
Her epitaph reads “Eyakity-yak, don’t talk back.”
In his final years, who did he talk to?
her last words were “jyailek kdoini kjijiel”.... which mean....
well, we don’t know what it means. But our research shows could mean,
“Fall nine, ten, eleven”
“Stall pine my leaven”
“Crawl bind to heaven” or....
difficult to say, but we’re working on it.
Those were the days.
Wife and I have taught in a couple Athabaskan Villages. The kids always traveled South To the big Navaho Spring potlatch, Even after 1000 years, they could still understand many of the words.
Up here every village has their own dialect but are similiar depending on proximity of village to others. The Indians here still know some of the language but don’t exclusively use it; with that culture disappears and they tend to pick up the worst of our white culture; alcohol which is making them go extinct just as if they had a concentration camp with oven burning bodies.
Most want left alone to live the way they always have which doesn’t fit into America’s scheme of things; Land ownership, taxes, govt regulations, hence the are going extinct still to this day.
Actually, once you get to know them, and don’t look down on them; they are better than most of the rural white people. Very non-judgemental, sharing, accepting people that will soon be a just sad story of our past.
In some villages they practice racism, no white people allowed to buy land, or stay too long. THe only way they can stop the process of their demise. THey are forced to do this to survive as us whites tend to come in and take over; they call it greed, we call it success.
methinks you have forgotten latin.
She was the youngest of her siblings and waited until her last older sibling died in the 1990s before taking on the responsibility that comes with being the oldest child. It was at that time that Jones pursued her interest in preserving the Eyak language and the environment, Galloway said.
No indication in this article that any her children learned the language over these past 15 years. If the descendants of the last speaker (or any descendants of her siblings) didn't rise to the occasion, what else to expect but a dead language.