Yakama Linguist Honored for a Lifetime of Reviving Native Languages

BEND, Ore. — Yakama linguist Virginia Beavert has devoted much of her professional life to revitalizing the Indigenous languages of the Columbia River system.

“Why not speak your own language?”she says. “The Chinese speak their own language. The Japanese speak their own language. The Hindus. But it seems like English is just so overwhelming this place around the reservation.”

On Saturday, The Museum at Warm Springs honored Dr. Beavert for a lifetime of work to preserve and breathe new life into the Native languages of the Northwest. The award for ninety-seven-year-old University of Oregon educator was part of the Huckleberry Harvest and Honor event, held at the High Desert Museum in Bend. Confluence partnered with the Museum at Warm Springs to present this video excerpt from the Confluence Library. The partnership with the Museum at Warm Springs also included a new interview with Virginia and Phillip Cash Cash (Cayuse) of the University of Arizona, a portion of which she spoke in Ichishkiin. Thanks to Museum Executive Director and Confluence board member Elizabeth Woody!

Also honored with the Twanat Award was Howard Arnett for his legal representation of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs on matters involving treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, tribal law development, government-to-government relations, and gaming. Howard has additional expertise in civil litigation and appellate practice.

Virginia Beavert has worked throughout her life to teach and preserve her Native language. She has been the Washington State Indian Educator of the Year, 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.

In 2004, Virginia was the recipient of an NEH Faculty Research Award for work on a Yakima Sahaptin Lexicography. She has received numerous fellowships, including awards from the Smithsonian Institute, Dartmouth College, and the Washington State Arts Commission. She has written and published several articles about Yakima language and culture. Virginia is the co- author of the Yakima Sahaptin Dictionary with Dr. Sharon Hargus of the University of Washington, and on a grammar of Sahaptin with Joana Jansen of the University of Oregon. She is a 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. Virginia was awarded the University of Oregon Doctoral Research Fellowship, the highest honor for graduate study at UO. She earned her Ph.D. in Linguistics in 2012. Her most recent book is: The Gift of Knowledge / Ttnúwit Átawish Nch’inch’imamí: Reflections on Sahaptin Ways.

Dr. Virginia Beavert (Yakama) shares stories and language in a partnership between Confluence and the Museum at Warm Springs.
(From the left) Phillip Cash Cash (Cayuse) of the University of Arizona, Dr. Virginia Beavert (Yakama), Museum at Warm Springs Executive Director and Confluence board member Elizabeth Woody, pictured here at the High Desert Museum in Bend.