Eldest member among Klallam tribes, last native speaker of language dies in Port Angeles at 103

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Hazel M. Sampson, the last to have spoken the Klallam language from birth and the eldest tribal member among Klallam tribes, has died at the age of 103.

Sampson — the granddaughter of the founder of Jamestown, Lord James Balch, for whom Jamestown was named — died Tuesday at her home in Port Angeles, survived by numerous children, grandchildren and great-, great-great and great-great-great grandchildren.

Sampson was a native Klallam speaker — those who learned Klallam first, then learned English as a second language, said Jamie Valadez, a Lower Elwha Klallam tribe member and teacher of the Klallam language and culture at Port Angeles High School.

“She was the last one,” Valadez said. “[Her death] changes the dynamics of everything.

“In the U.S., this is happening all over Indian Country,” she said.

“They carry so much knowledge of our culture and traditions. Then it’s gone.”

Sampson was born May 26, 1910, in Jamestown to William Hall and Ida Balch Hall.

She was married to Edward C. Sampson for 75 years until his death in 1995.

She lived in their home until her death, cared for by her close family members, Valadez said.

“It was their care and protection of her that allowed her to live so long,” she said.

A private service will be held for family and close friends. No public memorial has been announced.

Valadez and Texas linguist Timothy Montler, who compiled a Klallam dictionary, worked with Ed and Hazel Sampson, and other native speakers — such as Adeline Smith, who died in 2013, and Bea Charles, who died in 2009 — beginning in 1990.

“They told me, ‘When the last of us is no longer here, that’s when we [tribal members] become orphans,’” Valadez said.

Klallam is the language of the three U.S. Klallam tribes — the Lower Elwha, Jamestown S’Klallam and Port Gamble S’Klallam — as well as the Beecher Bay Klallam in British Columbia.

In 1999, Montler developed a series of booklet guides and lessons to help students learn the basics of the language through storytelling.

Today, many young Klallam tribal members are learning Klallam as a second language.

The lessons are used in Klallam preschool programs at Dry Creek Elementary, Stevens Middle and Port Angeles High schools, where the largest population of Klallam children are educated.

Montler compiled a Klallam dictionary, which was published by the University of Washington Press in 2012, using what he learned from the Sampsons, Smith and Charles, as well as from older recordings of native speakers.

The dictionary was distributed to Klallam and S’Klallam families, local libraries and schools.

Sampson was not an official part of the language project, though Valadez said she believes the elder Klallam knew the language better than her husband and friends.

Valadez said that if Ed forgot a word or got it wrong, Hazel would come out of the kitchen and correct him but declined to be officially involved in the project.

“She said, ‘This is Ed’s work.’ She was very traditional,” Valadez said.

Similarly, if Smith or Charles had problems recalling a word, Valadez said they would call Hazel to help with a word or phrase.

As a child, Hazel was simply identified as S’Klallam because at the time, there were no political differentiations among the Jamestown, Lower Elwha and Port Gamble bands, said Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam.

Hazel and her husband, also a Klallam tribal member, moved from Jamestown to Port Angeles in 1934 and were among the original 13 families to own land on the Lower Elwha Klallam Reservation.

The band she was born to, the Jamestown S’Klallam, wasn’t established as a separate political entity until the 1980s, Allen said.

“She considered herself a S’Klallam first. She associated closely with all three bands,” he said.

Allen said her death is a loss of not only her knowledge of the old language and culture of the Klallam, but also her as an individual.

“She was a very special and gracious member of the S’Klallam community,” Allen said.

“She was a strong spirit representing who we are as a people.”

________

Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 05. 2014 6:52PM
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