The Languages We Spoke
In centuries past, the Coquille Tribe’s ancestral homelands sat at the intersection of two distinct “families” of Native languages. To the north were various dialects of the Penutian family, including Miluk and Hanis. To the south were Athabaskan dialects, related to languages spoken in Alaska and the American Southwest.
No clear border divided these languages. But memories passed down through generations indicate that Miluk was spoken by Coquille ancestors around the mouth of the Coquille River at Bandon, northward to Coos Bay’s South Slough, and on Cape Arago. Athabaskan dialects used by other Coquille ancestors were found in areas east and south of where Miluk was spoken.
These differing languages did not block communication. Speaking more than one language was common, especially among women, because they traditionally married outside their home villages.
Sadly, these ancient languages could not survive the tsunami of Euro-American culture. By the early 1900s, most native languages on the Oregon Coast were nearly extinct. The remaining Indian people primarily spoke English and the regional trade jargon known as “Chinuk Wawa.” Today, the Coquille Tribe is working to reconnect its members with their ancestors’ languages.
Additional resources relating to the Coquille people’s traditional languages are available on the Tribal Library page, listed under “Indigenous Languages.” Click here.