Wednesday, October 04, 2006

NAT: Another Native Speaker Lost

Tulalips mourn loss of last native speaker
Marya Moses, 95, was one of the last ties to a time when their own language was widely spoken.
By Krista J. Kapralos, Herald Writer, Published: Tuesday, October 3, 2006

TULALIP - Marya Moses was still in primary school when federal officials took her from her home and moved her to the Tulalip Boarding School.

From then until she was 15, Moses was forced into an immersion course in English. Lushootseed, her native language, wasn't allowed.

"We all had late starts because of talking Indian," Moses said in an interview six years ago. "We were kind of shy."

When she died last week at age 95, she took with her knowledge of a language she kept locked away in her heart for decades.

She was the last native Lushootseed speaker on the Tulalip Indian Reservation, said her son, Ray Moses.

Linguists spent years tapping Marya Moses' understanding of Lushootseed in an effort to preserve the language.

In 1995, the Tulalip Tribes compiled a book of Lushootseed grammar from the knowledge of Marya Moses and native speakers from other tribes in the region. Many of those who spoke the language fluently have passed away.

"(Marya) was one of the last that really knew the Indian language totally," Tulalip Tribes Chairman Stan Jones said.

Marya Moses worked with Toby Langen and the tribes' Cultural Resources Department to develop the Lushootseed Language Department. Her death came less than two weeks after the death of Katherine Brown Joseph, the last native Lushootseed speaker in the Sauk Suiattle tribe in Darrington.

"As we lose people who had Lushootseed as their first language, our relationship to the language is certainly changing," said professor Tom Colonnese, director of the American Indian studies program at the University of Washington.

"One of the things that defines culture is language, so that link between culture and language exists more strongly in people who have had the language as their first language," he said.

More than 500 people gathered at the Tulalip Tribes administration complex Monday for Marya Moses' funeral. They wept for the loss of one of the tribes' last links to an era when their language was widely spoken.

Marya Moses was born in a barn on the reservation in 1911, amid the tribes' poorest and most desperate years. She gave birth to 11 children and struggled to care for them.

Food rations came to the reservation by train from the East Coast, Ray Moses said.

"My mother would have to clean the cereal and flour and pick out the worms," he said.

Marya Moses sent Ray Moses and other sons to live in the woods near Darrington, where federal officials were less likely to police tribal hunting and fishing.

"There was no food on the reservation," Ray Moses said. "We could live off the land in the mountains."

In the 1960s, Marya Moses became the first woman to own and operate a commercial fishing boat out of Tulalip Bay. She employed her six daughters as her crew.

"She was competitive," Stan Jones said. "She was a really strong fisherman."

The boys raced to the bay after work at a local mill to help pull in the day's catch, Ray Moses said.

On Monday, tribal members and friends of the tribes remembered Marya Moses as a whip-smart woman who never shied away from blunt honesty. She was proud of being Indian, and she had a deep faith in God, said the Rev. Patrick Twahy, her priest of many years.

"She was like the most giant cedar," he said. "She had her roots deep in her culture. She had the interior strength of her faith. When a cedar like that goes down, it leaves enormous absence."

Marya Moses was buried at Priest Point, only a few miles from where she was born.

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