The Parker P. McKenzie Kiowa Orthography: How Written Kiowa Came into Being

Article excerpt

The late Dr. Parker P McKenzie (1897-1999), a Kiowa, developed a written orthography for his tribal language, only the second American Indian to do so. McKenzie's work provides the most accurate system for writing and reading the grammatically complex and tonal Kiowa language, contains the insights of a skilled native speaker and linguist, and lays the foundation for all future works involving any extended use of Kiowa. Included are the McKenzie orthography, syllabary, pronunciation guide, and pronoun forms for the Kiowa language (Appendix).

Keywords: McKenzie, Parker P; Kiowa language; orthography.


In November 1897, members of the Kiowa tribe had encamped just north of Sepyalda (Rainy Hill) in Indian Territory to receive a per-capita annuity payment from tribal trust funds. On November 15, a male child was born in his great-grandmother's tipi a quarter mile north of this hill along the first bend in the south side of the creek, just west of the present county road in Kiowa County, Oklahoma. The boy was promptly named Sepyalda: Rainy Hill, the Kiowa name of the hill now known in English as Rainy Mountain, located approximately six miles southeast of present day Gotebo, Oklahoma. While still an infant, Sepyalda was given the English name of Parker by a Mr. Parker, a railroad supervisor from Chicago who periodically came to Indian Territory to inspect the line then extending to Mountain View, Oklahoma. When Mrs. Parker came to visit her husband she wished to see a "baby papoose," and was sent to the McKenzie family to see a small infant in a cradle board. Upon learning that the baby had only a Kiowa name, Mr. Parker bestowed his name upon the infant who later was enrolled as Paul Parker McKenzie. An original Kiowa allottee (#606), McKenzie was allotted in 1901.

Parker's mother, Akaudona (Name Sought For), was the daughter of Wejan (Discarded One), a Hispanic captured by Mescalero Apaches and later given by the Comanches to the Kiowas, and Fima (Eater), a half sister of the well known war chief Zepcauietje (Big Bow). When the last Kiowa bands were brought into the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache reservation in 1875, Parker's maternal grandparents were in their early thirties and had fully experienced the traditional lifestyle, including horse raids, war parties, bison hunting and processing, and the mobile horse-bison-tipi based economy. The McKenzie family surname originated from the physical similarity between Parker's father, a captive known as Sathaukaui (White Child), also given to the Kiowas by the Comanches, and General Ronald S. McKenzie. Both had lost the same two digits of the left hand, Sathhukaui from a childhood accident and General McKenzie from a Civil War wound. Kiowas promptly began calling his father Cinse, the Kiowa rendering of McKenzie, which became the family surname. While still a small boy, Parker McKenzie was given the hereditary name of his greatgrandfather, Yisaum (They Viewed Him Twice [In Battle]), so named for warfare actions on two separate occasions, and a Ft. Marian prisoner between 1875 and 1878. McKenzie grew up in the present Mountain View, Oklahoma, and Rainy Mountain Kiowa Indian Baptist Church communities. It was here that he learned of much of the old language and pre-reservation lifestyle from his grandparents and other elders, while experiencing contemporary Christian Kiowa traditions.

Initially speaking no English, Parker McKenzie began attending Rainy Mountain Indian Boarding School on October 10, 1904, graduating in June 1914. Answering an ad in the fall of 1913, McKenzie enrolled in a correspondence course in Gregg Shorthand from Chicago University of Commerce, completing it the following spring. McKenzie remained at Rainy Mountain the summer of 1914 to work at the school as an office boy. In September he transferred to Phoenix Indian Boarding School in Arizona for two years. Upon arriving there, students were asked what trade they wished to enter. …