The family of worldwide indigenous languages lost another fluent speaker in the death of Doris Jean Lamar McLemore. Considered the last fluent speaker of the Wichita language, she walked on August 30, 2016.
McLemore was born on April 16, 1927 and raised by her grandparents, Walter and Hushseah Lamar, from whom she learned to speak Wichita. She graduated from Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Oklahoma, in 1947, and worked for both the Concho (Oklahoma) Indian School and Riverside, where she retired as a dorm mother in the late 1980s. Her dedication to the Wichita people included membership in the Wichita Service Club and as honorary grandparent to the Wichita Little Sisters youth organization.
Forty years of her life were dedicated to the Wichita language, including language education and archival work. Gary McAdams, a past president of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, assisted McLemore in Wichita language education. According to McAdams, many people in the tribe called his mentor “Aunt Doe.”
“Half of what we have, and what we’re presently trying to archive, is from Doris,” McAdams said about her language archival work and language curriculum. “We don’t have anybody who can replace Doris.”
The Wichita language is a part of the Caddoan language family that also includes Caddo, Pawnee and Arikara. The classes that McLemore and McAdams taught included a regular weekly course with an average of 15 students, with the majority of them being 12 and under. McAdams said that language instruction is also incorporated into the Wichita Little Sisters and the Wichita Young Men’s Society weekly meetings.
In addition to her work with the Wichita language, McLemore also had a reputation for her skills in the kitchen, whether it was at the tribal complex or for visitors at her home. McAdams said one of the traditional teachings she embodied was the belief of having a positive mindset, especially in the preparation of her food.
“Our people believe that the way you felt, that it was always important to have good feelings, good thoughts, when you did anything,” McAdams said. “The main thing with Doris was preparation of food. Our people believe when you make food for people to eat, you needed to have good thoughts and good feelings while doing it.”
Within the past 10 years, McLemore was featured in several media outlets as varied as National Public Radio, Al Jazeera English, and the Wichita Eagle. In an NPR interview from January 30, 2008, McLemore talked about when, as a child, she served as interpreter to her grandmother when shopping. She also talked about the importance of Wichita education and recording for future generations. “…they’ll be hearing me after I’m gone,” she said.
McAdams now has the responsibility of continuing McLemore’s work, with plans to resume language courses in December.
“At this point, what we’ll attempt to do is pass on what we do have,” he said. “Certainly we would like to do more than that. It’s a little too soon for us to figure our way forward.”
McLemore’s voice will continue to be a large part of how the language program continues for future generations. As she told KMUW, “I’ll be gone, and they can still hear my voice.”
The Wichita Eagle published the below video that shows McLemore speaking before she passed:
She was preceded in death by her grandparents; her mother, Mae Lamar Davis; brothers Newton Lamar, Elliot Davis and Emerson Davis; sisters Latatia Rolon Medina; daughter Linda Carol Moody; and granddaughter Mandy Jo Moody. McLemore is survived by her children Doyle McLemore, Peggy and Steve Evans; sister Margie Tanner; sister-in-law Catherine Lamar; five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Also listed in her obituary was special grandson Edward Rocke Whitewolf.