The UW-Green Bay community shares in the loss of Maria Hinton, 103, a revered Oneida Tribal Elder and 1979 UW-Green Bay graduate who passed away Sunday, July 28, 2013.
Mrs. Hinton was known nationally for helping preserve Oneida stories, language and culture. She is believed to be the last individual in Wisconsin who learned Oneida as a first language.
She and her brother, the late Amos Christjohn, collaborated to create the first written dictionary for the oral language. Later, UW-Green Bay Prof. Cliff Abbott and Mrs. Hinton spent years recording the language and creating an online, spoken-word Oneida dictionary. The body of work includes a digitized searchable online database with more than 34,000 words and 12,000 sound files of pronunciation. It was recognized with a Prism Award in October of 2009 by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
“I will remember her as smart, hardworking, savvy about people, and enormously committed to the language,” said her close friend Abbott.
“For me she embodied the legendary power of Iroquoian women that I’d often read about. She was proud and protective of both her family and her community and often showed it by fighting both with them and for them. She was able to accomplish much in her life that has lasting value for the native world, the academic world, and the larger world we are all a part of.
“As I think back on the many hours we spent together learning and laughing with each other, I know I will miss her.”
Hinton was raised by her grandparents, who spoke only Oneida in the home. She first learned English when sent to a government school at the age of 10. It was said she stood up to the matrons of the school to be able to keep her knowledge of the Oneida alive.
Education had long been Hinton’s passion. She helped found the Oneida Turtle Elementary School and worked there well into her 90s as a culture and language instructor. She is believed to be the only lifetime certified educator in the state of Wisconsin.
The Smithsonian award recognized Hinton’s devotion to more than 40 years of work to preserve the Oneida language. In 2008, she and Abbott were presented the Founders Association Award for Excellence in Collaborative Achievement. In April of 2012, Mrs. Hinton drew the longest applause of the evening when she was honored among UW-Green Bay’s most distinguished alumni.
In a post written by Nate Wisneski in Monday’s (July 29) Kalihwisaks — the official newspaper of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin — others reflected on her life:
“To develop the Oneida dictionary was a significant piece of scholarly work that transcends time and encourages people to learn the language,” said former Oneida Tribal Chairman Rick Hill. “Her dedication and her efforts were extremely important and I want to thank her for her work.”
Added Hinton’s grandson, Ernie Stevens, Jr.:
“My grandmother was one of the most important influences of my life. I will always cherish her legacy. It is a great honor to be one of so many grandchildren that she loved so dearly.”
UW-Green Bay News will share information about services for Mrs. Hinton as it becomes available.