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Oregon has historically been home to hundreds of thousands of people including dozens of Native American tribes dating back before 9500 B.C. As various tribes made the journey across the Bering Strait to relocate, many chose areas in the Northwest to settle. Some of the first to the Oregon area were the Kalapuya Indians who inhabited Oregon more than 8,000 years ago and although many different tribes called our state home the Kalapuya is just one example of people native to Oregon.
The Kalapuya tribe settled in many places but mainly in Eugene, Oregon where they lived for several centuries and had tribes that ranged from Southern Washington to Southern Oregon. The Kalapuya language is considered to be part of the Penutian family related most closely to Takelma but had many dialects that were spoken by different groups. Although Kalapuya and Takelma were the closest related languages, they couldn’t be understood by each other making it hard to communicate with members of other tribes.
Although the language once spoken by the Kalapuya language is now extinct, it was once spoken by almost 20,000 people in Oregon and Southern Washington. The dialects of Kalapuya were closely related but could not be easily understood by speakers of one of the others. It was in the North that they spoke Yamhill and Tualatin, Central where they spoke Santiam and Lakmayut, and Yoncalla was spoken in the South. In the areas closest to my home in Portland, Native Americans living near the Tualatin and Yamhill Rivers spoke the Tualatin and Yamhill dialects of Kalapuya.
Kalapuya is part of the Penutian family and is known for resembling European Languages. Ranging from British Columbia all the way south to Central America, various Penutian languages were spoken but each tribe had its own dialect that was not understood by others. Consisting of more than 20 different languages and spoken by hundreds of different tribes along the west coast the Penutian family of languages was spoken by thousands. Other Penutian languages include Klamath-Modac, Cayuse, Molale, Coos, Takelma, Chinook, Tsimsnian and Zuni. Major languages being Zuni, Tsimahian and Sahaptin spoken mostly in New Mexico, British Columbia and north-central Oregon.
As the Kalapuya people expanded, the population in the Willamette Valley alone grew to more than 15,000 people. They were powerful people who were experts in what they grew and developed. It wasn’t until the 1830’s when settlers introduced the plague and small pox that the population majorly decreased, leaving less than 500 Kalapuya in the Valley. Consequently, the Kalapuya people are now extinct with not even a handful of people who know the language anymore.
Although the actual Kalapuya dialect is currently extinct, multiple tribes speak other dialects of the Penutian family across the country. What is now known as the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon includes more than 20 tribes in the Oregon area. Across the country, membership is nearly 5,000 people and most speaks a dialect of the Penutian language similar to that spoken by the Kalapuya in the past.
The small pox and plague epidemics caused devastation among the Kalapuya Tribes and killed more than 14,000 Kalapuya people. It was in 1782-83 when small pox swept from Missouri all the way to the North West, and not even 50 years later when the Plague was brought over by a ship sailing up the Columbia River. Together these two tragedies caused the death of almost every Kalapuya Tribe members leaving a total population of less than 500 people.
Little was known about the Kalapuya much before European contact and by the time most settlers arrived, the Kalapuya population had decreased by almost 95%. Most information known came from descriptions brought back from early explorers and traders. Due to the amount of useful resources in the Willamette Valley, they traded with many other tribes around and became experts in agriculture.
The closest language to Kalapuya is Takelma, which was spoken in several parts of Oregon and was mainly spoken by two distinct tribes. “Takelma. A small linguistic family comprising two separate tribes: the Takelma on the east side of the Klamath and Coast Mountains in the middle Rogue River area around Grants Pass, Oregon; and the Latgawa in the upper Rogue River area around Jacksonville, Oregon.” (Johnson, p. 178)
Just as the Kalapuya did, the Takelma language slowly disappeared and is now a language in history not spoken anymore. “In 1905 there were reportedly only three or four elderly women who spoke the Takelman language. By the early twentieth century any evidence of Takelma tribal entity had disappeared.” (Ruby and Brown, p. 228)
Since the Kalapuya people had little contact with any Europeans, there are not a lot of references or texts written in or about Kalapuya, unlike the Takelma people. There is a collection of texts and grammar written by Edward Sapir titled The Collected Works of Edward Sapir VIII: Takelma Texts & Grammar. This collection includes information and rules about the language and has various texts about Takelma, explaining the basic grammar structure.
Another source related to Native American languages is a Chinook vocabulary dictionary written in 1886 used to translate things into Chinook. Although Chinook is not understandable by people who speak Kalapuya, it is from the same linguistic family and could be a vital part of history. It is somewhat a handbook to Indian Languages seeing as most languages in the Oregon area have similar words and common grammatical structure.
The Kalapuya language is now just a memory and since is not spoken anymore has become a part of history. Oregon is full of Native American history and is still home to thousands of Native American people. Although the majority of the languages spoken by Native Americans have become extinct, the ancestors and traditions have continuously been passed down and are still celebrated throughout the country today.
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"Native Americans In Oregon." 123HelpMe.com. 18 Sep 2014