BEND, Ore. — A Yakama linguist has been honored for her efforts to preserve and breathe new life into the Native languages of the Northwest.
Virginia Beavert, 97, has devoted much of her professional life to revitalizing the Indigenous languages of the Columbia River system. On Saturday, The Museum at Warm Springs presented Beavert with the Twanat Award during the Huckleberry Harvest and Honors Dinner, held at the High Desert Museum in Bend.
The award is the latest of many for Beavert, a University of Oregon graduate and educator. She talks about the importance of people speaking in their own language in a video interview by Confluence, a nonprofit that connects people to the history, living cultures and ecology of the Columbia River system through Indigenous voices.
“Why not speak your own language?” Beavert says in the video. “The Chinese speak their own language. The Japanese speak their own language. The Hindus speak their own language. But it seems like English is just so overwhelming this place around the reservations and they’re getting to the point where it’s easier, I guess, to use English.”
Her stepfather, Alexander Saluskin or Chief Wi-ya-wikt, citing his poor health, in the 1970s encouraged her to return to school to help him complete his life’s work, “The Sahaptin Practical Dictionary for Yakama,” notes a profile of her on the Central Washington University website. Beavert earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Central in 1986 and her her doctorate in linguistics from the University of Oregon in 2012.
She completed her stepfather’s dictionary and published two more, along with a book of Yakama legends. Beavert’s most recent book is “The Gift of Knowledge / Ttnúwit Átawish Nch’inch’imamí: Reflections on Sahaptin Ways.”
A World War II veteran, she was among other female veterans honored by the Yakama Nation at a special event in May. She assisted in the war effort for four years with the Army Air Forces.
Beavert has been the Washington State Indian Educator of the Year, a news release said, and in 2004 was honored by the Indigenous Language Institute for her lifetime of work on language revitalization. She was a key planner of the Yakama exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and has served on numerous committees and planning councils related to the documentation and preservation of Native languages.
She was the 2007 recipient of the Ken Hale Prize, awarded by the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas, and in 2008, was awarded the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Oregon for her significant contribution to the cultural development of Oregon and society as a whole.
In 2004, Beavert received an NEH Faculty Research Award for work on a Yakima Sahaptin Lexicography. She has received numerous fellowships and has written and published several articles about Yakama language and culture. She is the co-author of the Yakama Sahaptin Dictionary with Sharon Hargus of the University of Washington.