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 said.
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 generation."
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Language is essential to culture so it is no surprise that the U.S. government sought to eradicate (“phase out”?) the Klallam language, in addition to many other indigenous languages and peoples. Amazing how the language of a nation dies with a single individual.