Emily Dickerson’s portrait by artist Mike Larsen
ADA, OKLAHOMA – The Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma has announced the death of the last monolingual Chickasaw language speaker earlier this week.
Emily Johnson Dickerson, a full blood Chickasaw who spoke only the Chickasaw language her entire life, died at her Ada home on Monday, December 30, 2013. She was 93.
Dickerson was the last monolingual Chickasaw language speaker, according to Joshua Hinson, director of the Chickasaw Nation Language Department.
Hinson, who has devoted his career to revitalization of the Chickasaw language, said today the loss of Dickerson was monumental. “I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the loss and what this means to the Chickasaw Nation,” he said.
Dickerson was one of only an estimated 70 remaining fluent speakers of the Chickasaw language.
“Emily Dickerson was a treasured elder who held the Chickasaw language and ways of life close to her heart,” said Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby. “This is a sad day for all Chickasaw people because we have lost a cherished member of our Chickasaw family and an unequalled source of knowledge about our language and culture. My condolences go out to her closest friends and family as we mourn the loss of a woman who holds a special place in the hearts of her family and her tribe.”
Born February 22, 1920, her childhood was spent in the unrelenting Oklahoma sun picking cotton, harvesting peanuts and chaffing broom corn as a farm laborer. When she married in 1968, she became a homemaker and housewife, raising children who spoke only Chickasaw until they enrolled in public school.
Dickerson was a beloved Chickasaw elder. Her likeness was captured on canvas in 2008 by renowned Chickasaw artist Mike Larsen. Her portrait is proudly displayed in the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur.
Funeral services will be Saturday and interment will be in Steedman Cemetery, near Kullihoma ceremonial grounds, a place of reverence for the Chickasaw Nation.