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Holy road: Speaker of Wasco language dead at 91

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BEND, Ore. (AP) – Madeline Brunoe McInturff, one of the last three fluent speakers of the Wasco tribal language in the Northwest, died at age 91, according to the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs.

Following her death from cancer on July 11, the Warm Springs Tribal Council passed a resolution honoring her effort to preserve tribal languages.

“I just had great appreciation for the tenacity she had in making sure the Wasco language stayed alive,” said Myra Johnson, director of the culture and heritage department for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

McInturff was born in Warm Springs to Jerry Brunoe, a tribal judge, and his wife, Sophie, in 1915 and spent most of her life on the reservation, said her son, Ted Brunoe.

In the 1930s, McInturff went to work for the reservation’s IHS clinic, starting as a clerical worker and eventually becoming a nurse’s aide who helped older tribal members connect with unfamiliar doctors, Brunoe said.

“It got to be they would have to go through my mother’s indoctrination as to how to doctor to the old Indian people because they did not trust the young doctors,” Brunoe said.

After she retired in 1984, McInturff dedicated her time to preserving her tribe’s language and traditions.

With her death there are just two fluent Wasco speakers – a man who lives on the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington and Warm Springs tribal member Gladys Thompson, who is in her 90s, Johnson said.

The tribes are still working to reintroduce the languages of the Wasco, Warm Springs and Paiute people, through classes for preschoolers and older students, but the loss of fluent speakers is a blow to the effort, Johnson said.

“We still hold on to that hope,” Johnson said. “We think at some point the Wasco language will be spoken, but it won’t be spoken as fluently and with all the nuances that it once had.”

Brunoe, 67, said he can understand the language, but doesn’t speak it.

“Whenever I was home she would speak to me in Wasco,” Brunoe recalled of his youth. “But when I went to school they would forbid us to speak Indian.”