Memorial: Remembering Our Friend, Blair A. Rudes – Linguistics Advisor to CCIC

Blair A. Rudes – 1951-2008

28 March 2008

It is with much sadness that we report the news that our dear friend and linguistics advisor, Blair Rudes, passed away from a heart attack on March 16th.

Any regular visitors to our website or listeners to our lectures should be well-familiar with Dr. Rudes’ name, as he has been our key source for both the coastal Algonquian and Tuscarora languages.

Dr. Rudes’ full-time profession was as Associate Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

He is best known in the Indian community, however, for his extensive work in documenting endangered indigenous languages (such as Tuscarora) as well as reconstructing Native languages that have been long lost to history and assimilation (such as coastal Algonquian and Catawba).

His Tuscarora-English/English-Tuscarora Dictionary was published by the University of Toronto Press in 1999. The Tuscarora Nation honored him for his work on the Tuscarora language in 2006.

Dr. Rudes also reconstructed the Algonquian language of Virginia for the New Line motion picture The New World, which starred Colin Farrell and Q’orianka Kilcher.  (The dialect of Virginia Algonquian he worked on for the film is nearly identical to the Algonquian language spoken here in coastal North Carolina in the pre-colonial and early colonial era)

In Winter of 2006, we did an interview with Dr. Rudes for our newsletter The Carolina Pine on how he went about researching and resurrecting a dead language that had not been spoken for centuries using only the scarce written records made by English explorers in the early colonial era. (See link below for article.)

In recent years, Dr. Rudes had been hard at work compiling the Catawba lexicon for a three-volume set titled The Catawba Language.

We will be ever grateful for the legacy left by our friend, Blair Rudes. Through his life’s work in indigenous languages, he created a bridge from the past and brought the words of our distant ancestors to this and future generations.

Thanks to Blair Rudes, we can know how our ancestors said hello, how they told their children to eat, to sit still, to come quick, or to simply say, “I love you.” We know the names they had for themselves and their mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers

To have worked so diligently and passionately to give us this gift, that he saw the languages of our ancestors as important and worthy of his full attention and documentation, is something for which there are no words — in any language — to express our gratitude.

Thank you, Dr. Rudes. We love you and will miss you.

Winkan nupes. (Sleep well.)


In Memory of Blair Rudes… [Leave your comments]

Earnest Willis, Craven Co., NC

I really hated to hear about the sad news of the passing of Dr. Rudes. While I did not know him personally reading and seeing how he put whole languages back together I feel like I at least knew what type of fellow he was. The work he has done is greatly appreciated by many and his legacy will live on! I first learned about Dr. Rudes through CCIC , since then I have learned just how important his work was to so many. I also certainly hope there is a directors cut out there of THE NEW WORLD that shows more of the language Dr. Rudes put together for many generations to come.

God bless you Dr. RUDES!


Sara Whitford, Carteret Co., NC

Having the opportunity to know Dr. Rudes and his work has been such a blessing to me, personally. I owned his Tuscarora-English/English-Tuscarora Dictionary several years before I had the opportunity to speak with him. I actually sought him out back in 2005 when I heard of his work on The New World. As a descendant of Algonquian language speakers, I was excited at the prospect of having someone help me learn to speak words that no one in my family has been able to speak for centuries. Dr. Rudes and I had many conversations and shared many e-mails always with me asking lots of language questions and him always eagerly answering them. I’ve also directed a number of folks with specific language questions to Dr. Rudes over the last few years through my work with CCIC. He’s been an open book to anyone taking the time to tap into his vast knowledge of indigenous languages.

It had been his plan to work on an Algonquian-English/English-Algonquian dictionary and I’m saddened to think it might never come to pass. I will do all that I can to obtain any of his written or recorded work on Algonquian language and make it available on the CCIC website.

Without a doubt, Blair Rudes’ legacy of language will long outlive any of us!

Thank you, Dr. Rudes!


Francene Patterson, Sanborn, NY

The Tuscarora Nation and our language will carry on with heavy hearts and a mournful spirit. We were given a gift from the Creator: the knowledge and wisdom of Dr. Blair Rudes, and his legacy will live on through his works. The elders he worked with in the 70′s are no longer with us, but their words live on because of the linguist, and the friend everyone knew as… Blair. Our language restoration process will continue, because of his efforts to compile the Tuscarora language. His wisdom and aptitude for our language has touched all, from the Kindergarten class to adult student. I will need to stop myself now from wanting to call or e-mail him for that one elusive question about my language. Blair was my mentor, willing to prepare lessons for me through Empire State College, so that I may obtain my degree in linguistics also. There is a sense of disconnection now, a gap, a void, in our language soul.


Michael McKay, Virginia

I’m sorry to hear of Dr. Rudes passing. I never actually met him but I’ve heard many good things about his work, especially with the Tuscarora and Algonkian languages.


Teresa Morris (Founder of CCIC) – Carteret Co., NC

It is rare especially these days and the times in which we live to witness an individual filled with the kind of vision and scholarly passion for Indian people that goes way beyond the current standard course of study, or printed page.

I dare imagine where we’d be today and for generations yet to come if Dr. Rudes had chosen another line of work or scholarly pursuit. I’m so thankful he chose to go the distance in helping those of us come full circle and graduate towards self-actualization.

Dr. Rudes faithfully chose to stay the course in answering his higher calling for the love of indigenous languages by breathing new life into words that have not been spoken for countless generations.

I believe one of the ways in honoring Dr. Rudes lifelong work today is to encourage people, schools and the public-at-large, in making it a priority to acknowledge, teach and pass forward all that Dr. Rudes has left behind to any one of us, albeit native and/or non-native as an ongoing SACRED TRUST.

When all is said and done, his restoration of our ability to fluently speak the language that connects us to our ancestors speaks volumns now and will continue to do so for generations yet to come with respect to the love we have for our indigenous roots, as well as in honoring a man who has cleared the pathway for others daring to follow his lead.


Rebecca Hein

I, too, feel so sad to hear of his passing. To have such a dedication for this tedious type of research
was a blessing to many, and I hope his diligence will inspire others to do the same. I watched New World with such intensity wanting to understand everything that was said! I think it is a good idea to offer his publications’ list for all to see. Again express my condolences to his loved ones.


Stan Allen – New Bern, NC

I met Blair Rudes on line through the auspices of CCIC– and thanks again for that, Teresa and Sara!

I had been wanting to send a word list, mainly from early NC maps, to someone for linguistic analysis. I spent a lot of time thinking about this, deciding it would be better to send it to an academic researcher rather than, say, to the Six Nations Iroquois Reserve in Canada or the Six Nations in New York. I felt that with the words having been transcribed into English spellings in the 1580′s through 1750′s by non-linguists with more or less education, it would take a scholar to figure it all out. Little did I know that there was just that person here in our own state, Dr. Blair A. Rudes, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

When I approached Blair in September, 2007 about sending the list I was very “diplomatic”, asking if he could just see if they “looked” Iroquoian (my then-main interest). I was careful to say that I knew translating could be a research project in itself so I wasn’t asking for that. He asked me to send the list, which consisted of over twenty words, and almost immediately sent back not only his opinions about probable language families but also tentative translations for many of the words.

The most interesting were from the 1733 Moseley map. I’d noticed an unusual cluster (unusual for that date and for that map) of nine obviously Indigenous creek names at the headwaters of Northeast Cape Fear River. I thought some looked Tuscaroran and wondered if they might be relevant at least in part to formation of Lumbee and other Indian communities after the Tuscarora War of 1711, when so many of the shattered tribes were withdrawing as refugees to NC’s swamps and border hills, or heading north to New York and other areas in between. This cluster was so unusual on the map that it It seemed the map-makers’ informants would have had to be Indian People themselves. The creek names must have been gathered around 1730 when Europeans began moving into the NC interior. This was pretty late actually as the Lumbee were also being “discovered” then, in their log cabins on Drowning Creek, now Robeson County.
Blair said that most of these creek names were indeed Tuscarora words. For example he wrote that “Scarunteh” was probably “Lone Tree”, and “Cotehasky” was “probably a Tuscarora word containing the root ‘teh’, ‘sand’; perhaps something like ka’tehe:Okye, ‘long sand place’ (i.e. ‘Long Beach’)”.

There were three creek names which he said were definitely not Tuscaroran/Iroquoian: Anaschun, Abescaru and Lanatta. Could any of these be Siouan, from the Woccon or Waccamaw who were also nearby on Neuse before the Tuscararoa War? Blair thought Abescaru looked Algonkian, which would be another possibility for refugees moving inland after the war.

If there were Tuscarora, Siouan, and Algonkian people on these creeks in c.1730, where did they go? There is no Native community in the immediate area now, but the Coharie are a short distance away in Sampson on their name-sake creek, and of course the Lumbee beyond them– as well as people/families not specifically part of Indian communities today, who retain traditions and documentary evidence of Indian ancestry.

Incidentally Blair said “Coharie”, “probably contains the Tuscarora root ‘her’, ‘green, grass’. Kahere’kye wouold mean ‘grassy place, field”. (And in addition, one of the insurgent Tuscarora mentioned in the War documents was James Cohery.)

Blair was always so willing and “friendly”– a long way from the kind of academic who sees everyone else as an amateur (which I certainly am) operating somewhere way beneath them.
In our correspondence he showed me that I was jumping to conclusions about the ethno-linguistic identities of some of the ancient tribes. He told me something very important, that the Carolinas at the time of European contact, “were perhaps the most culturally diverse area in North America outside of southern California”. I knew the Algonkians and Iroquoians came down from the northeast, the Siouans from the mid-west, the Cherokee from….Mississippi?, the Muskhogeans from the deep south. But Blair said there were also some tribes in NC whose language affiliations have defied identification so far. These just happen to include the ones I’m most interested in: Coree, Neusiok, Eno, Shakori or Shocco, and also maybe Saxapahaw and Keyauwee, the last four most usually lumped in by researchers with nearby Siouan speakers. The whole language family thing is so important because it tells so much about origins and culture.

Blair felt that the 16th and 17th century Spanish explorers’ documents will eventually give clues, if they can be found or if they surface out of archives in Spain or maybe in the Caribbean islands. He had already moved into these sources with his search for the mysterious city of Chicora, which he felt on linguistic evidence to be on the NC coast rather than at SC’s Winyaw Bay as previously thought.

Blair told me that the lingistic ID of my main focus, the Neuse and Coree on the coast would probably have to wait for more information from those Spanish sources, as their few recorded words were clearly neither Algonkian or Iroquoian. His passing therefore is an immediate loss in just this area alone, since he was already interested in and beginning to look at those Spanish sources.

I’d also like to express my appreciation, as I did to Blair, for his work in “The New World”. Yes had I been directing, I would have done a lot less love story, and I also think the internal monologues were a big and irritating mistake. But the movie did show that the Indigenous People were both very spiritual and also fun-loving, exactly as they are today. Blair coached the cast on Algonkian pronunciation. Whatever one might feel about the plot-line and other aspects, this movie is surely a land mark in Native American representation in movies, thanks especially to Blair Rudes.

I was about to send Blair a few more words, including Wee-quo-whom, which Lawson recorded as the tribal name for Falls of the Neuse. I wonder if this might be an Eno or Shocco word and therefore maybe another clue to their identity, still trying I guess to connect Coree at mouth of Neuse and those two tribes at the other end of Neuse River.

Maybe there is someone else out there somewhere who can say, but will they be as approachable, as willing to share, as friendly as Blair Rudes?

Yes he will be missed by those who knew his work, and especially by those who had the good fortune to know him, if only on line.


Pamela Graham DeRenesis – Raleigh, NC

I was very sad to hear about the passing of Dr. Rudes. He was always so willing to share his knowledge and his research. I had met him for the first time last year at the NC Indian Unity Conference where readily accepted my invitation to discuss his efforts on preserving Indian languages. I also reached out for his help last year to help with the naming of plants in the native landscaping around the National Museum of the American Indian. He will be missed!

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