BAPTISM, DEATH OF A LANGUAGE
BAPTISM, DEATH OF A LANGUAGE
In church the other day, we were asked to think back to our own baptism. Of course I don’t “remember” it because I was a baby. But having witnessed other baptisms as I grew up, I knew how it all went. Remembering that old church brings lots of nostalgia. It was the Indian mission established on the reservation by the Methodist church. My family was directly involved on the board, in the building, in the preaching. It’s one of those things that are taken for granted but that history passes by. The building sits there now, deserted, empty. It was given over to the tribe by the church, but at this time—2018—it is not valued as the strong part of the tribal history that it is for our family and others.
I see it as the choice for spiritual continuation of our tribal beliefs at that time. I always heard that the bible stories were the same as our tribal stories, just with different words and names. So it was a way to hold on to spiritual connections using English words. The easiest example was of the great flood, the top of the mountain that was the first to reappear, now called Pelican Butte, and the name of the rocky point where the people first stepped off the boat. So in hearing the bible story of Noah’s Ark, we could relate to the lessons told.
I never learned the names of the places in Klamath because every effort had been made with my dad’s generation to stamp out the use of our Klamath language and religion. The threat was that if the government people heard any of the children speaking Klamath they took them away and sent them to boarding school. My dad’s generation of course learned to understand the language heard all around them and could speak it at will. But never being able to openly use it in daily community situations took its toll. By my generation, the language was not heard much, and it was judged better for us not to learn it so we could make our way better in the life that was now all around us.
I used to hear Grandma talking it sometimes, especially if she was mad at Grandpa. And sometimes when we were camped way up in the mountains, somebody would answer my questions about what some words meant. Then, as kids do, we’d run around playing, practicing saying them. Five days ago I turned 82.
Frieda Kirk is a longtime Washington resident with Klamath roots and memories.
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