NILI co-founder Átway Tuxámshish/Dr. Virginia Beavert (Yakama Nation) Walks On at 102

Virgina Beavert
It is with a heavy heart, but with an enormous sense of gratitude and love, that we send prayers for a good journey for Átway Tuxámshish/Virginia Beavert (Yakama Nation), who walked on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. She was 102.

As Michelle Jacob (Yakama Nation) reminds us, it's now up to us "to continue the amazing work she inspires." To that end, UO NAIS offers this Around the O article documenting the community celebration of Átway Tuxámshish/Dr. Virginia Beavert's 100th birthday in 2022; she will be missed.

Beavert was an instructor of the University of Oregon's Ichishkíin class, mentoring students. She also mentored Native and non-Native students in UO’s Sapsikwala teacher education program, UO Teach and other related disciplines, and advised students through the Many Nations Longhouse.

She was a keynote speaker at the UO’s Native student commencement ceremonies several times, focusing her message on the responsibility and privilege of returning institutional knowledge to tribal communities.

Before Beavert became a mentor to students, she relied on them herself when she became a nontraditional student in her 40s, earning a bachelor’s degree in anthropology at Central Washington University, and later a master’s degree in bilingual education at the University of Arizona. Beavert said being an older student wasn’t always easy, and she encouraged admirers to study hard. 

Beavert began her education after serving in the Women’s Army Corps in New Mexico during World War II. But long before that, as a young teenager, Beavert worked with anthropologist Melville Jacobs, who became interested in Beavert’s fluency in the language and culture of not just her Yakama tribe but also neighboring Salish tribes.

Being away from her family for three years during the war, Beavert began to lose her Yakama language. She remembers calling home from New Mexico when her mother was talking too fast for her to understand.

“She yelled at me over the phone: ‘What’s the matter with you!’” Beavert recalled in an Around the O interview back in 2021. “Just think, in three years I forgot my language. This is the way it is. The children, when they’re taken away from their reservation, lose their language if they don’t have someone to speak to.”

When Beavert returned from her military service, she promised to help her stepfather finish his work on recording the Ichishkíin language.

Beavert published their Ichishkíin, also called Sahaptin, dictionary and others, as well as a collection of Yakama legends and stories, “Anakú Iwachá (The Way it Was)” and “The Gift of Knowledge/Ttnúwit Átawish Nch'inch'imamí: Reflections on Sahaptin Ways,” a book based on her doctoral dissertation that includes highlights from her own life and cultural teachings. Beavert was also the first woman to be elected to the Yakama Nation general council and served from 1974-85. She received numerous fellowships, awards and honors for her cultural work.

Read more about Beavert in Around the O's profile for her 100th birthday.