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Know the West

Vandals didn't silence the past

  A recent vandal attack in central Oregon's Warm Springs Indian reservation left the three tribes that make up the reservation at a loss for words. Literally.

In early August, two 12-year-old boys broke into the trailer that houses the reservation's heritage program and caused over $10,000 in damage. What hurt the most was the destruction of computer disks containing language archives, including legends told by elders no longer living, and translations and transcriptions from languages no longer spoken.

The archives were the heart of a program to revive the languages of the Wasco, the Warm Springs and the Paiute - the three tribes that share the 640,000-acre reservation.

"When you are talking about dying languages, you are talking about things that are never retrievable again," Wilson Wewa Jr., cultural director for the Confederated Tribes, told The Oregonian.

But not all was lost. Citizen response was "amazing," says language program coordinator Myra Shawaway. Volunteers from as far away as British Columbia offered their services to help retrieve the missing information. Although the disks didn't have backups, 98 percent of the material has now been recovered. Volunteers took apart the damaged computers to salvage hard drives that at first seemed completely destroyed. Shawaway says the school heritage program will resume as scheduled at Warm Springs Elementary School, beginning with teaching the Warm Springs tribe's Sahaptin language.

*Jamie Murray