Kaw tribal members paid tribute to the late linguist Dr. Robert Rankin, who revived the Kanza language, in a memorial at Washunga Cemetery in Newkirk on Saturday.
Rankin, who died on Feb. 25, recorded the last three native Kanza speakers, Maude McCauley Rowe, Walter Kekahbah and Ralph Pepper, and served as a consultant to the Kanza language project until his death. He helped publish the Kaw dictionary and the “Kanza Reader.”
“I met Dr. Rankin in the 1980s at the University Kansas at the end of the day,” recalled Curtis Kekahbah. “I asked him how to say certain words. He gave me his lexicon. I was so excited to read his words. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have these words. He was so generous with his time and his knowledge.”
Carol Clark recalled how Rankin would visit Rowe, her grandmother, every summer and record her speaking the language.
“Professor Rankin was part of our family. He was an implant in our yard every summer. Everyone would drop by and look. She’d giggle while talking. If you listen to those tapes, you’d hear her giggle,” she said.
Storm Brave remembered studying with Rankin and preparing for language competitions with him.
“I remember Dr. Rankin as a teacher and role model. He would teach and critique us until we were perfect,” she said.
Former Kanza Language Project Director Justin McBride recalled the close relationship he had with Rankin while working on the project from 2001 to 2010.
“I was very happy to know Dr. Rankin. He was sort of like a father figure. Even though he was really, really smart, he never made me feel dumb. He was such a devoted person to the Kaw people,” he said.
Kanza Language Project Director Dave Kaufman, who was a student of Rankin’s, recalled how Rankin pushed him towards the languages he studied and helped him in his work on Native languages.
“I hope all of us Siouanists can do half of what he did,” he said.
Rankin’s ashes were buried behind his memorial at the cemetery.