Across the world many languages have become extinct over the past decades. Here, Casey Titus considers this in the American context by telling us about five Native American languages that have become extinct in the twenty-first century.

Four members of the Osage Nation with US President Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

Four members of the Osage Nation with US President Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

1.     Serrano 

This language was spoken by the Serrano people of Southern California, a Serran branch of the Uto-Aztecan family which is one of the world’s primary language families and that stretches from Idaho in the United States to El Salvador in Central America. Serrano translates as “highlander” or “mountaineer” in Spanish, and was given by Spanish missionaries in the late 18thcentury as the Serrano historically resided in the San Bernardino Mountains and other Transverse Ranges as well as the Mojave Desert. Due to forced relocations and smallpox epidemics for which the Serrano people had no immunity, their population was greatly reduced and by 1910, only 150 of the Native Californians were estimated to be left. The last fully fluent speaker was Dorothy Ramon, who died in 2002.

 

2.     Unami

 

An Algonquian language that stretches from the Rocky Mountains to Atlantic Canada, Unami was spoken by the Lenape people, who stretched across five states, but primarily Delaware, from the late 17thto early 18thcenturies. The Lenape had a matrilineal clan system whose women elders could remove leaders of whom they disapproved and families were matrilocal; newlywed couples would reside with the bride’s family where her mother and sisters could assist her with her growing family. By 1682, their population was endangered and subsequent decades of intertribal conflict and forced relocation pushed the Lenape people further west until the 1860s when the United States government sent most remaining Lenape to present-day Oklahoma under the Indian removal policy. Currently, the Delaware Tribe of Indians is one of three federally recognized tribes, with Unami being one of two Delaware languages, the other being Munsee. The last fluent speaker in the United States was Edward Thompson who died on August 31, 2002.

 

 

3.     Klamath-Modoc

A traditional language of the Klamath and Modoc people spoken around the Klamath Lake that extends to southern Oregon and northern California, both ethnicities speak a dialect of the language. Klamath is part of the Plateau Penutian language family and, like Indo-European and Afro-Asiatic languages, this language is abundant in ablaut, any sound change within a word that indicates grammatical information. By 1998, only one native speaker remained. Four years later, the last fluent Klamath speaker residing in Chiloquin, Oregon, Neva Eggsman, died at the age of 92. As of 2006, there are no more native speakers of either the Klamath or Modoc dialects.

 

4.     Osage

Osage is a Siouan language spoken by the Osage people of Oklahoma. Siouan languages are located primarily in the Great Plains, Ohio, and Mississippi Valleys. The Osage Nation developed in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys around 700 BC and migrated west of the Mississippi after the 17thcentury because of ongoing battles with the Iroquois, who were invading the Ohio Valley from New York and Pennsylvania in search for new hunting grounds. “Osage” is a loose French version of the tribe’s name that roughly translates to “warlike.” At the height of their power in the early 19thcentury, the Osage was the dominant power in the region and feared by neighboring tribes. The missionary Isaac McCoy described the Osage as an “uncommonly fierce, courageous, warlike nation.” Though not officially declared extinct, as of 2009, approximately 15-20 elders claimed Osage as their second language. In early 2015, Osage Nation Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear announced he would render Osage language immersion and revitalization a priority.

 

5.     Eyak

Historically spoken by the Eyak people, indigenous to south-central Alaska. Eyak is one of twenty-one official languages in the state of Alaska. The rapid spread of English and restraint of indigenous languages contributed to the decline of Eyak. The last full-blooded Eyak and native speaker, Marie Smith Jones, died in 2008 and with her, the Eyak language. In June of 2010, an astounding revival effort was made when the Anchorage Daily News published an article about Guillaume Leduey, a French college student who taught himself Eyak from the age of 12 through the use of print and audio instructional materials received from the Alaska Native Language Center. He is now classified as a fluent speaker, translator, and instructor of Eyak.

 

What do you think of the extinction of these languages? Let us know below. 

References

“Klamath Language.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Feb. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klamath_language.

“Osage.” Atlas of Endangered Alphabets, www.endangeredalphabets.net/alphabets/osage/.

Revolvy, LLC. “‘Klamath Language’ on Revolvy.com.” Revolvy, www.revolvy.com/topic/Klamath%20language.

Revolvy, LLC. “‘Unami Language’ on Revolvy.com.” Revolvy, www.revolvy.com/page/Unami-language.

“Serrano Language.” Serrano Language - Howling Pixel, howlingpixel.com/i-en/Serrano_language.

“Serrano Language.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Apr. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serrano_language.

“Unami Language.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Sept. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unami_language.

The Spanish Empire first came into contact with Native American in Northern California in the 16thcentury – and that contact was to be the primary European contact for centuries. Here, Daniel L. Smith (site here)looks at early encounters between the Spanish and Native Americans – and considers how they impacted later 19thcentury settlers to the area.

You can read Daniel’s past articles on California in the US Civil War (here), Medieval jesters (here), and How American Colonial Law Justified the Settlement of Native American Territories (here).

Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, a 18th century Spanish naval officer who visited Northern California.

Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, a 18th century Spanish naval officer who visited Northern California.

Not So Positive of Encounters

Northern California is a scene of majestic redwood forests, beautiful rocky coastlines, and lush inner-landscapes that can only be imagined today. The land known to us today as Humboldt County, for example, had been home to indigenous peoples for some time prior to the arrival of Europeans.[1]In pristine Humboldt, over a dozen tribes made up the encompassed swath of land from Klamath to the Eel River on the coast, which ranged inland to include Weaverville and Shasta. All tribes of Northern California, like all civilizations, have cultural tendencies that are all based around religion, resources, customs, and family (religion and family – which surprisingly many intellectuals tend to leave out of contemporary texts in terms of historical importance to events).[2]

To understand California’s beginnings is to understand that according to Europe and the rest of the non-indigenous world, California was a Spanish territory.[3]It was in 1587 that Conquistador Pedro de Unamumo was given orders from the Spanish monarchy to explore the coasts of California. At the time, however, the Spanish crown believed that California was its own unique island.[4] Some centuries later, on June 11, 1775, two Spanish Naval conquistadors, Bruno de Heceta and Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra, landed on Trinity Head Point where they placed the Catholic cross and immediately his landing party was rained on by native arrows.[5]

Back to Unamumo, who would end up pulling into the area of Morro Bay where he led an armed landing party of 12 men, accompanied by a priest. When attempted contact was made, the landing party was showered on with arrows and spears. Five of the men were wounded – two were killed.[6]It was at this point Spanish officials ordered explorers not to leave the safety of their ships, or cargo. Colonizing Spaniards were in California for economic as well as political and religious purposes; however, it seems that Spanish explorers at the time were there for the Spanish monarchy’s intentions.

 

Culture Shock

Leaders such as Christopher Columbus or William Bradford are a polarized example to the opposite of the Spanish conquistadors personal intentions at that time. There was a lot of complicated quasi-relationships between the Spanish and the indigenous natives of California. Due to policies implemented by Spanish authorities, the ultimate result of the Spanish Empire would be a general cultural oppressionto the indigenous tribes of California. This oppressionwas the result of the Jesuit Catholic missions, including political officers appointed by Spain and their policies towards the indigenous natives of California.[7]These natives were not asked to convert; they were forced into the Catholic mission system. 

Once on mission grounds, it became a cultural shock to the indigenous people who had the unfortunate chance of being pushed into this system. To get a better inside look at the reality of Spanish California missions is to understand their goals. It was to create temporary institutes to ‘civilize’ the natives by giving them a proper education, as well as providing experience in European skillsets of labor, and knowledge of their political and social customs. The next phase of the process was ‘gente du razon’or – a civilized people of mixed native and Spanish ethnicity. In the end, the Spanish would dissolve the missions after the natives were civilized, allowing the native converts to manage the mission lands. Further, the natives would become tax-paying Spanish citizens.[8]

The Spanish authorities would then secularize (remove the religious purposes of the institute) the lands the mission was on – ultimately forming a “vassaled-in,” but unincorporated part of Spanish-colonial society. The intended Spanish plan for the mission systemwould end up collapsing on itself. When the natives of the missions did not renounce their customs and traditions for strict Catholicism, they were punished with intensity. Anytime a native broke any religious, work, or fleshly rules laid out by the mission, Catholic authorities would administer punishment for even a minor incident. [9]

 

Just Before The Rush For Gold

Extra manual-labor, less food provisions… or worse: shackled in chains, whipped, and held in prison-like confinement. As time moved forward, the economic policies of the mission would etch out a permanent mark on the landscape of Northern California. This showed the threat of native defiance that would put a “brake” on further Spanish exploration… a certain evidence of substantial native hostility;both during Europeans’ first contact and during the American pioneer-renowned westward expansion. Indeed, the Catholic missions’ economic and religious purposes would serve to negatively affectthe early-settlers of Northern California from the mid-nineteenth century.[10]

Now, some historians would argue that because there was no “official” established Catholic mission in Northern California, that it did not affect the regional native populations. I claim to rebuke that theory with this theory: Native American tribes were notoriously quick to relay important societal events via intertribal communication; such as word of mouth and messages.Indigenous tribes had knowledge of Europeans and knew tribal events east of the Rocky Mountains, as well as in Southern California. 

Prior to the discovery of gold dust by James W. Marshall on January 24, 1848, there was minimum contact between indigenous Northern Californians and peoples of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, or Caucasian ethnicities.[11]They say first impressions are important; it seems the Spanish Monarchy laid out a poor impression and welcoming mat for the incoming settlers of the mid-1800s of European descent. American settlers pioneering to the West had information on what to prepare for and how to do it – and a lot of them barely had enough money to afford the wagon by itself. Being knowledgeable to surviving what was to inevitably come in their travels was the key to a successful arrival.

 

What do you think of the author’s arguments? Let us know below.

Finally, Daniel Smith writes at complexamerica.org.


[1]Ziegler, Herbert, and Jerry Bentley. Bentley, Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2014. p. 34.

[2]Smith, Daniel L. Our America: Our Life & Our Culture. Eureka, CA.: Independent, 2018. p. 48.

[3]Ellison, William H. "Indian Policy in California." 21, no. 1 (Fall ), 2-3.

[4]Sedler, Kathy. "History of Humboldt County, California." Historic Record Co., Los Angeles, 1915. Ch. 5, Para. 1.

[5]Tovell, Freeman M. (2008). At the Far Reaches of Empire: The Life of Juan Francisco De La Bodega Y Quadra. University of British Columbia Press. pp. 22–23. ISBN 978-0-7748-1367-9.

[6]Sedler, K. "History of Humboldt County, California”  Ch. 5, Para. 6.

[7]Ellison, William H. "The Federal Indian Policy in California, 1846-1860." The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 9, no. 1 (1922): p. 33.

[8]Olson-Raymer, Geyle. “The Discovery, Exploration, and Founding of Spanish California.” HSU – Dept. of History. Last modified Dec. 31, 2014. http://users.humboldt.edu/ogayle/hist383/Discovery.html. Print – p. 1-2.

[9]Ibid. p. 3.

[10]Hittell, Theodore Henry (1898). History of California; Vol. 3, Book X, Chap XII – Treatment of Indians (cont.)San Francisco, CA: J.N. Stone. Pp. 912-17.

[11]Sedler, K. "History of Humboldt County, California” Ch. 5, Para. 9

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

TThe nature of constitutions of Native Americans is a debated topic in American history, particularly as those constitutions played a role in the ‘legitimacy’ (or otherwise) of the settling of Native American lands. Here, Daniel Smith discusses Western colonial law, property rights, and the constitutions of Native Americans - and how the constitutions are seen to have altered with Western concepts of property rights.

You can read Daniel’s past articles on California in the US Civil War (here) and Medieval jesters (here).

Major Ridge, a leader of the Cherokee in the nineteenth century who was to play a major role in ceding Cherokee lands to European-American settlers.

Major Ridge, a leader of the Cherokee in the nineteenth century who was to play a major role in ceding Cherokee lands to European-American settlers.

The idea of independent sovereignty with full “property rights” observed is a Western concept that Native Americans adopted. The Cherokee Constitution, for example, was a purposeful effort by the Cherokee to adopt Western ideals, as through their observations they felt a sense order, structure, justice, and liberty. Hence, they moved to partition the Cherokee Nation from tribal culture, and establish a more formal and legal presence within North America. 

In Article 2, section 1, “The power of the Government shall be divided into three distinct departments---the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial.”[1] This is the same wording as the American Federal Constitution, in article 1, section 1. This leads me to believe that the Cherokee established their constitution under the same formatting as the Federal Government for reasons of: 1.) Tribal Security, 2.) Tribal Continuity, and 3.) Regional Relief of Tensions.

According to todayingeorgiahistory.org, “It was designed to solidify the tribe’s sovereignty and resist white encroachment and removal -- and to counter American citizens stereotyping of Indians as savages. The Cherokee constitution proved controversial with both other Cherokee, who saw it as a threat to tradition, and the state of Georgia, which thought it threatened its sovereignty over the tribe. Georgia continued, and succeeded in, its relentless pursuit of Cherokee removal, despite the Constitution adopted on July 26, 1827” [2] 

That is made worse when you learn that the Cherokee were attempting to assimilate into American society as best as they could while maintaining their own sovereign identity. Oppositely though, I find it hard to believe that there was not misconduct between Georgia and the Cherokee – on both sides. Typically, as in geopolitics, there is always a reaction to an action whether negative or positive in outcome.

I had an argument where a peer said, "A constitution that has been in practice since before the upstate settlements in the 1600s and may hold partial responsibility in the development of the settlers nation. As proof, they cite records kept by the colonists. An Onondaga named Canassatego, suggested that the colonists form a nation similar to the Iroquois Confederacy during a meeting of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania in Lancaster on June 25, 1744.”

 

INFLUENCES

There is an argument that the ideals for some Native American nations, such as the Cherokee, predate any influence provided by the Europeans. Where we see the most similarity is in how these Native Americans formatted their laws to reflect that of the settlers. This may have been done in the attempt to most effectively convey their already sovereign nations to these foreigners in a way that most effectively would do so.

I would humbly disagree that "the ideals for some Native American nations, such as the Cherokee, predate any influence provided by the Europeans." There is a lack of evidence that Western-style Native American political ideals predated European Influence, especially when it comes to the Constitution of National Governments. Here is why: colonial law and property ownership is a particularly Western concept (even though all cultures understand ownership over physical items).

An example here would be the Magna Carta of 1215. The Magna Carta was a signed document and statement that embodied the principle that both sovereign nations and sovereign people are beneath the law and subject to it. Later, both Englishmen and American Colonists cited the Magna Carta as a source of their freedom. Native Americans did not have access to this document.

Even before 1215, Alfred the Great, an English King from 871-899, was a strict follower of Catholic Saint Patrick. After many Viking invasions, Alfred the Great instituted Christian reforms in many areas of life, including government. These reforms were based on the Ten Commandments as the basis of law and adopted many other patterns of government based on religious texts. My point here is that, it is very difficult, if not impossible, that Native Americans could have established a style of Western or "Christian Constitution" without direct Western European influence.

 

EVIDENCE EXPLAINED

According to the Michael P. Gueno, “English common law jurists expounded upon the argument for the English monarchy’s right to conquer non-Christian territories, most articulately described in Lord Chief Justice Edward Coke’s dicta in Calvin’s Case. Coke argued that all non-Christians were perpetual enemies, of the Christian and by their very nature are in a state of war with Christian nations.[3] However, despite the general consensus that Native American tribes lacked any rights to the territories that they occupied, in practice, colonists often felt compelled to obtain at least some formal semblance of legal consent from the tribes through treaties or purchase agreements to assert their claim upon tribal lands”. This shows that, despite how the settlers took the lands, there was still a desire to have a legal basis for taking the lands.

Mr. Gueno continues to state that, “Some colonists even denounced the unilateral rights and universal sovereignty of European Christians over the Native Americans. Colonial theologian Roger Williams rejected the assumption that being white and Christian were sufficient conditions to legitimize colonization or conversion. He argued that since Native Americans clearly believed that they owned the land, Native American–inhabited territories could not be legally treated as vacuum domicilium and settled without regard for tribal presence.” This helps to show that property ownership was understood. [4] 

Gueno concludes, “Europeans continued to debate conflicting religious interpretations of Indian rights during the early North American colonial era. Yet, whenever Native Americans were numerous, proximate, and potentially threatening, colonizing peoples felt pressed to seek Indian consent for new settlements. Thus, European powers ascribed, to some extent, in practice and in theory a sufficient degree of sovereignty to Native tribes to legitimately transfer claim of lands and administer their own communities.”[5]

How Native American lands were taken by Europeans, and how legal this was, is a complex issue in North American history. Interpretations are one of the major battles in presenting history, but I hope this article helps to explain more about Colonial Law and Native America.

 

 

What do you think of the arguments in the article? Let us know below.

Finally, Daniel Smith writes at complexamerica.weebly.com.

Sources

[1]"1839 Constitution." Cherokee Nation, www.cherokeeobserver.org/Issues/1839constitution.html. Accessed 26 Nov. 2018.
[2] State of Georgia. "Cherokee Constitution." Todayingeorgiahistory.org/, 2013, www.todayingeorgiahistory.org/content/cherokee-constitution. Accessed 26 Nov. 2018
[3] David H. Getches, Charles F. Wilkinson, Robert A. Williams, Jr., Matthew L. M. Fletcher, & Kristen A. Carpenter, eds., Cases and Materials On Federal Indian Law, 7th ed. (Saint Paul, MN: West Academic Publishing, 2017), 63.
[4] Henry S. Commanger, ed., Documents of American History, 9th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1968), 5–10.
[5] Gueno, Michael P. "Native Americans, Law, and Religion in America." Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, 10 Nov. 2017, religion.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-140. Accessed 10 June 2018.