MAY 14, 1918


Born in Cordova, Alaska, Jones grew up on Eyak Lake.  Many of her siblings died young when smallpox and influenza tore through the Eyaks.  Marie had nine children, most of whom are still living.  None of them learned Eyak because they grew up at a time when it was considered wrong to speak anything but English.  In traditional fashion, as the youngest of her siblings, she waited until her last older sibling died in the 1990s before taking on the responsibility that comes with being the oldest child.  It was then that Jones pursued her interest in preserving the Eyak language and the environment.  At that point, she became very proactive politically and twice spoke at the United Nations on peace and the importance of indigenous languages.  Marie wanted a written record of the language so future generations would have the chance to resurrect it.  To that end, she helped University of Alaska compile an Eyak dictionary and grammar.  Jones died at her home in Anchorage on January 21, 2008.

Source:  Mary Pemberton, “Mary Smith Jones, 89, Last Full-Blooded Alaskan Eyak, Boston Globe, January 25, 2008.  Retrieved 12/3/2020,
Map:  Ahtna_lang.png, 1/24/2011.  Map of Eyak speakers before European contact.  Permissive Use.

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