The Eyak Language Project
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.
Marie Smith Jones, the last surviving native Eyak speaker, pictured in 2001