January 23, 2008

SAD: Last Native Speaker Of Eyak Dies

Chief Marie Smith Jones, the last full-blooded Eyak and last Native speaker of the Eyak language, died Monday at her Fairview apartment.

"She'd become something of a poster child for the issue of mass language extinction," said linguist Michael Krauss, founder of the Alaska Native Languages Center, and now retired from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "She understood as only someone in her unique position could, what it meant to be the last of her kind. And she was very much alone as the last speaker of Eyak.

"It's the first, but probably not the last at the rate things are going, of the Alaska Native languages to go extinct. She understood what was at stake and its significance, and bore that tragic mantle with grace and dignity."