Joshua Monette '19 remembered for passion for culture and language revitalization

by Sonia Qin | 4/18/17 2:00am

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Joshua Monette ’19 planned to pursue a degree in linguistics at the College.

Source: Courtesy of Rachel Venske

While many students come to Dartmouth without a clear vision for their future, Joshua Monette ’19 knew he wanted to revive the Makah language and preserve the culture of his Native American tribe.

After the Makah Tribe lost its last first-language speaker in the early 2000s, Monette began to study linguistics in high school, which he continued at Dartmouth, his mother Rebekah Monette said.

“He was very gifted in math and sciences,” she said. “I tried to let him know it would be okay to change majors — most students do in those early years, and his response to me was, ‘If not me, then who?’”

On April 2, Monette was reported missing after he was swept off the rocks by a wave near the Hole in the Wall cove in Cape Flattery, close to his home in Neah Bay, Washington. Searches for him were suspended on April 4. He was 19. Monette was a member of the Native Americans at Dartmouth student organization and planned to pursue a degree in linguistics.

Justeen Komok ’19, who is also from Washington, first met Monette at the airport before First-Year Trips because they were on the same section. They began a romantic relationship during freshman pre-orientation and remained together for almost the entirety of their freshman year.

Komok said that because he was so far away from home, Monette tried to bring his culture and traditions to campus through different projects, including crafting tiny sealskin moccasins for his newborn nephew and drums for his little sisters.

In the jewelry studio, he made a toggle for a harpoon.

“He actually produced from start to finish his own toggles, and he was so proud of it, and he was giving them to his family members to be actually used out on the water at home,” Komok said.

In addition, Monette had his father ship him sealskin so that he could sew his own moccasins, Komok said. She added that Monette worked with another student who knew how to sew canvas, and together they tried to determine the best way to sew together the sealskin.

Eleni Mora ’18, Monette’s First-Year Trip leader for Hiking 3, said she was inspired by Monette’s personal engagement with the practices of his culture.

“His heritage meant a lot, but it wasn’t enough just to know about it,” Mora said. “He had to also live, breathe and practice it.”

Michelle Wang ’19, one of Monette’s trippees, said that Monette was very supportive during their trip. Due to an injured ankle, Wang would frequently fall behind the other members of her trip, but Monette would draw back and entertain her with stories about him and his hometown to keep her company.

Wang said she was inspired by Monette’s goal to revitalize the Makah language.

“He already knew what he wanted to do in life, and that’s something that’s always really inspired me,” Wang said. “He just talked about how he was here at college so he could better himself, better his community and better humanity as a whole because his language is dying out.”

At one point during their trip, Monette spent two hours describing to everyone how to skin and parse a seal and explaining what each part can be used for, Wang said.

“He would tell us stories of his seal hunting on the coast, and when we talked about what mattered to us and what we wanted to do in the future, none of us really had much of a plan, except Josh,” Mora said. “He had a real plan for what he wanted to do.”

Monette’s aunt Rachel Venske said that Monette would often go on hunting expeditions with her son, his cousin Abraham, who was close in age to Monette.

“He’s been on different hunting adventures, seafood-gathering adventures, with his different cousins, with his friends, with his mom,” Venske said.

Monette also had a curious mind and a thirst for knowledge, Rebekah Monette said.

“He had a mind that was constantly in motion, and he was always thinking about something, contemplating something, from the time that he was very, very young,” she said.

Monette was initially interested in pursuing degrees in biology and law but refocused his energies on reviving the Makah language when he learned about how the language “holds so much of [his people’s] view of the world through the Makah lens,” Rebekah Monette said.

She explained that Monette’s interest in the language came from language classes and from her own work at the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay. While attending Dartmouth, Monette was very focused on linguistics, even though it was not his strongest subject, she said.

Monette’s close childhood friend Hannah Welzbacker said that the Makah community in Neah Bay is hoping someone else can step up and continue the work that Monette started. She added that many Makah Tribe elders were impressed that “this young person had so much of a passion for where he came from.”

Venske echoed a similar sentiment.

“Family was everything for [Monette],” Venske said.

She added that their family often has big gatherings — this past Thanksgiving she hosted 93 guests at her home.

“At these gatherings, we have people here from infancy to my dad[’s age], and [Monette] could sit in any age group and enjoy conversations and people enjoyed conversations with him,” Venske said. “You see him talking with the younger ones, you see him chumming around with the kids his age, and he can be respectfully sitting with his grandfather and anyone older.”

His mother said that Monette was very enthusiastic about adopting his two younger sisters.

“He opened his arms and his heart to these two little girls, and he spent a good amount of time teaching them as well,” she said. “The Makah language that’s in my house really comes from him, so he’d come home and he’d teach the little girls the songs, the language, about hunting and different foods.”

She added that Monette also looked up to his older brother, Eli Monette, and had been looking forward to being an uncle to his 7-month old nephew as he got older.

Monette also spent a lot of time with his grandfather, learning and “investing in that knowledge base from the older times,” Rebekah Monette said.

In addition to his passion for language revitalization, Monette was very athletic and started playing football at a young age, in addition to playing baseball and running, Rebekah Monette said. She added that he loved to “dive into the dirt and get muddy.”

She said that though her son was not very big in size, he accumulated 174 football tackles in his senior year of high school. Monette was a member of the Neah Bay High School Red Devils, a three-time state championship team.

Venske added that Monette had a “beautiful, awesome, powerful singing voice.”

In 2016, the Neah Bay High School basketball and football teams won the State Championships and were invited to the state capital. Monette performed at the event in March 2017 as the lead singer in the Appreciation Song in front of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and his staff.

When he was around 15 years old, Monette began singing for the culture program at the annual summertime Makah Days, a fair commemorating the Makah Tribe, his mother said.

“He was doing such a good job that the older men basically handed him the reins for that age group and allowed him to be the lead singer,” she said. “It was really significant and really opened the door for other young people to come in and start participating in that, in the way that he did.”

Monette also had a deep love of nature, according to Mora.

“He was very much someone who appreciated nature — he would notice a beautiful weather day, and he would enjoy that,” Mora said. “If there was a tree that was in bloom, he would notice that. He was very observant of his surroundings.”

According to Mora, Wang and Welzbacker, Monette was a kind and caring individual.

Welzbacker first met Monette when she was around 9 years old. They were both participating in the All-American Soap Box Derby and were competing against each other, she said.

“His mom told him to blow me a kiss to distract me, and little 10-year old Josh did and I ended up losing the race,” Welzbacker said.

Monette and Welzbacker both attended Klahowya Secondary School for two years in Silverdale, Washington, before Monette moved to Neah Bay. However, they continued to stay in touch and became best friends.

Welzbacker said that in the past year and a half, her high school lost two students, and Monette came to both memorials. According to her, for one of the memorials, Monette paid for his flight from Dartmouth out of his own pocket “because he felt like he needed to be there,” even though he had not attended the school since eighth grade.

According to his mother, Dartmouth was not initially on Monette’s list of potential schools. However, after he visited the campus several times, he was attracted by the Native American community at Dartmouth, she said.

“If he was going to have to be away for school, I think he wanted to remain in a place that would still allow him to maintain his identity,” she said.

She explained that Monette saw Dartmouth as a gateway for future career opportunities.

“He saw it as a wonderful place for opportunity and he really, really enjoyed the world view that he could obtain there with all the different people from the different places,” she said. “He liked engaging in conversation with people from different places.”

Monette touched many lives on Dartmouth’s campus, and even if it was a short conversation, he was very memorable, Komok said.

Rebekah Monette said that when she encouraged Monette to take some easier classes at Dartmouth, he replied, “Why would I do that? Why would I do something that I’m already good at? I’m here to learn.”

Welzbacker said that Monette intended to return to Neah Bay after graduation and become a linguistics teacher.

On April 9, more than 800 people attended Monette’s celebration of life in his hometown of Neah Bay, Venske said, adding that from a young age, Monette blessed the people around him with many memories. Rebekah Monette said that during Monette’s celebration of life, she saw many sincere friendships her son was able to forge.

Monette is survived by his mother, father, stepfather, older brother, two younger sisters, nephew and a large extended family.

A ceremony honoring Monette's life will be held on May 8 at 5 p.m. in Rollins Chapel, followed by a reception at the Top of the Hop.

Updated May 3: included date of the memorial service at Dartmouth