Eyak is a Na-Dene language that was historically spoken by the Eyak people indigenous in the 300 miles of coastal rainforest from eastern Prince William Sound to Yakutat in the Copper River Delta region of south central Alaska. Honorary Chief Marie Smith Jones (May 14, 1918-January 21, 2008) was the language's last native speaker, as well as the last full-blooded Eyak.
In 2008, with the passing of Marie-Smith Jones, the last Native Speaker of Eyak, the people, their language, history and culture is threatened. Indeed, Eyak has been called to first Alaska Native language to be coined "extinct".
Following a life-long interest and passion, Alaska Native linguistics expert Dr. Michael Krauss has documented the Eyak Language for nearly a half century, producing a comprehensive technical dictionary, along with a large volume of stories and folklore. In 2002, under a multi-year grant from the Administration for Native Americans, EPC preserved all these materials in a basic digital format, making them readily accessible for the first time. A set of DVD learning discs were created to help potential learners understand these scholarly materials. These materials were freely distributed to all who asked. One of those requests came from a teenager in France. In 2009, we learned that this young man had actually taught himself how to speak the language. Last summer, at the age of 21, Guilluame Leduey, left France for the first times and came to Cordova, Alaska to meet Eyak people and visit the ancestral lands around Cordova. His trip was inspiring in a number of essential ways. Here was someone who could not only help Michael Krauss complete the written record of Eyak in his lifetime, Guillaume also had the ability and desire to help teach the language. For the first time, the community saw it was indeed possible to revitalize Eyak as a living, spoken language.
The project is a grassroots, community effort to bring back Eyak as a living, spoken language. Under EPC, Project director Laura Bliss Spann and her team is spearheading the organizational effort to find long-term funding for the project. To date, the revitalization efforts have been supported with donations, as well as grants to EPC from the Alaska Humanities Forum, The Eyak Corporation and the Chugach Heritage Foundation.
Guillaume returned to Anchorage and Cordova summer 2011, and several Eyak language sessions took place with great attendance and enthusiasm. This is the first time there's ever been an opportunity or attempt to begin teaching Eyak systematically. Techniques such as Total Physical Response (TPR) and Accelerated Second Language Acquisition (ASLA) have been highly effective in helping new speakers learn a lot about their language in a short time.
Project Director Laura Bliss Spaan says the goal is to give learners the confidence and tools they need to bring their language back into their daily lives. Followup video lessons will be posted the project's website so new speakers can continue to learn at their own pace.
EPC has been and remains committed to revitalizing Eyak language and culture, and preserving the Eyak wild salmon way of life, and to represent the Eyak people.
Our vision is to see Eyaks speaking Eyak, and to restore a tribal identity. Please help and support this important project!
Eyak Language Project; Informational Videos. Use arrows to switch.
Eyak Language Project; Photos from the revitalization activities in Anchorage and Cordova.
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Marie Smith Jones, the last surviving native Eyak speaker, pictured in 2001