Last native speaker of Klallam language
dies in Washington state
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[February 07, 2014]
By Jonathan Kaminsky
OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) — The last
known native speaker of the Klallam language, which the U.S. government
once sought to phase out before funding an effort to preserve it, died
in Washington state on Tuesday at age 103, friends and tribal leaders
The death of Hazel Sampson, who was taught the Klallam language by
her parents before learning English, marks the end of an era, said
Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe. Sampson died
at a hospital in Port Angeles, Washington.
Klallam belongs to the Salish family of Native American languages,
spoken in the Pacific Northwest and southwestern Canada.
"It's the final chapter of one of our tribal citizens who grew up in
the culture before we were exposed extensively to the non-Indian
culture and language," Allen said. "We lost an elder who kept the
culture and language of the S'Klallam people fresh in the younger
Starting in the 1800's, the U.S. federal government embarked on a
systemic effort to eliminate the use of many Native American
languages by compelling young American Indians to study and converse
in English, and by sending them to boarding schools, said Chad Uran,
a visiting lecturer in the University of Washington's American
Indian Studies Department.
In a subsequent reversal, the Klallam language was one of several
for which the federal government funded preservation programs after
the passage of the Native American Languages Act of 1990.
In an effort undertaken by Timothy Montler, a linguistics professor
at the University of North Texas, and with the contributions of
tribal elders that included Sampson, a dictionary of the Klallam
language was published.
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There are currently some 3,000 Klallam members in the United States,
split into three western-Washington tribes. The vast majority do not
speak the Klallam language, although it is being taught as a second
language at a handful of schools on the Olympic Peninsula of
Washington state, including at Port Angeles High School, Allen said.
Born in Jamestown, Sampson later became a member of the Lower Elwha
Klallam Tribe, a distinction that did not exist until she became an
adult, and one that she never fully recognized, Allen said.
"We became three tribes over the years, but that didn't matter to
her," Allen said. "She was a citizen of the S'Klallam people. She
always came from that spirit."
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb; editing by Andre Grenon)
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