The last fluent speaker of one of Oregon’s tribal languages has died on the Warm Springs Reservation.
Gladys Thompson died Wednesday evening at home. She was 97. She was born on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in 1915 and learned Kiksht from her parents. She was also fluent in two other tongues, Ichishkiin which still has dozens of speakers in Warm Springs, and Sahaptin the language of the Columbia Plateau.
Fay Waheneka says “Grandma Gladys,” as Thompson was known, was still correcting people’s pronunciation from her hospital bed. Waheneka says losing a friend and a language is hard.
She explained, “You’re losing your culture, once you lose the language. And you completely go into today’s society and you know nothing about yourself. And the elders would tell you that you’re lost in this world. You don’t know who you are or what you’re doing, once you lose the language and the traditional values.”
Thompson helped pass a bill to certify native language teachers. The Oregon Legislature honored her in 2007 for her contributions to preserving tribal culture. At the time she had 26 grandchildren, 78 great-grandchildren, and 23 great-great-grandchildren.