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Klallam people celebrate new dictionary
LITTLE BOSTON — The hefty, 983-page book is important for the current generation, Laura Price told the crowd gathered Wednesday in the Port Gamble S’Klallam longhouse.
“It’s important for the ones who have passed on, and it’s important for the ones who are not here yet.”
Indeed, the new Klallam Dictionary — celebrated at the gathering of Klallam people from Elwha, Jamestown and Port Gamble — holds the future of the language. And it holds a lot of history.
Elders, educators and Tribal Council members from Becher Bay, Elwha, Jamestown and Port Gamble worked with University of North Texas professor Timothy Montler for a quarter of a century on this dictionary, which has more than 9,000 entries, a grammatical sketch, numerous indexes, and a wealth of cultural information. The dictionary is among the largest books published by the University of Washington Press.
Some of the voices that contributed to the dictionary were born in the mid-1800s, when knowledge of the language was at its purist. Montler and Elwha Klallam elder Adeline Smith spent months transcribing recordings made in 1942 by prolific linguist/ethnologist John Peabody Harrington (1884-1961). Among Harrington’s interviewees: Louise Butner, who was present at the signing of the Treaty of Point No Point in 1855.
Every Port Gamble S’Klallam family and tribal government department received a copy of the dictionary Wednesday. Marie Hebert, who teaches language to children in grades K-5, said the dictionary will be a well-used tool.
“I’m always having to look up words — or I call Tim Montler,” she said. “It’s going to help keep the language alive, it’s going to help the children to continue on [learning the language] and be proud of who they are.”
That pride in culture was apparent Wednesday, as little ones, carrying representations of an orca’s dorsal fin, sang the kloomachin song, led by their teacher Dennis Jones. Kloomachin is the Klallam word for killer whale. It’s also the name of a S’Klallam canoe.
Floyd Jones opened the celebration with a prayer. Port Gamble S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan welcomed guests, who then enjoyed dinner. The S’Klallam Singers offered a welcome song. Price presented large, framed portraits of Smith to the chairpersons of the Jamestown, Elwha and Port Gamble S’Klallam bands. Gifts were presented to certified language teachers and others.
The evening was closed with a song, prayer and distribution of the dictionaries.
According to the dictionary, Klallam is an endangered language being revived through the efforts of the Klallam Language Program. While there are fewer than a dozen speakers of Klallam as their first language, there are hundreds who have gone through Klallam language programs in the past 20 years.
Donna Gerdts, linguistics professor at Simon Fraser University, wrote of the dictionary: “Rich in authentic cultural content and detailed linguistic analysis, this comprehensive work is an important legacy for the Klallam people and an excellent contribution to research on Salish languages.”