Friday, November 30, 2012

Will Lakota Survive?

Lakota Immersion
Lakota is the language of one of the branches of the Sioux native people.
In the post here last month about Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, it was mentioned that Lakota/English interpreters were needed for internal communication between the English-speaking performers and the hundred or so Lakota Sioux in the troupe. (Enter lakota in the Search box on the right to find the post.) So Lakota was still very much a live language at the start of the 20th century.

Sadly the language declined in the ensuing hundred years until now it’s on the verge of extinction. The Sioux have recently reacted:
"The spiritual, cultural and political survival of the Lakota people is contingent upon the recovery of their language, said Bryan Brewer, president-elect of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
“As the incoming president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, I will waste no time in debating this need,” Brewer said Thursday. “We will move with purpose and conviction, and all of our available resources to address this challenge.”
"A retired educator, Brewer, 65, addressed the fifth annual Lakota Language Summit, being held in Rapid City at Best Western Ramkota Hotel. Representatives of 23 Lakota-, Dakota- and Nakota-speaking tribes from 11 states and three Canadian provinces are at the summit.
"This is a turning point in history for the Seven Council Fires, Brewer said, referring to the seven major divisions of the Sioux Nation.
"One year ago, the state and national alliances to save Native languages declared the Lakota language in a state of emergency."
Meanwhile one man, the last fluent Lakota native speaker, is doing something practical to try and keep it alive in the next generation.
"Tom Red Bird is 61 years old. Red Bird is one of the remaining people in the world who can speak Lakota, an indigenous language spoken by Hunkpapa Sioux since time unknown. He spends his days in a large airy room with green plants in the windows among 10 boys and girls, speaking to them only in the ancient language of their ancestors... these little ones hear and speak Lakota with Red Bird and the three instructional aides in the room.
"Red Bird speaks it fast and fluently since his own childhood on the Cheyenne Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The aides speak it slowly. They, too, are learning as they go.
"It is an experimental program at Sitting Bull Community College on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border."
Let's wish him success.
  • Lauren Donovan. (The Bismarck Tribune). Program at tribal college teaches Lakota language. Daily Republic, 21 November, 2012. The article is here.
  • Andrea J. Cook. Brewer pledges to preserve Lakota language. Rapid City Journal, 16 November 2012. The report is here, with a fine portrait photo of Bryan Brewer.
Lakota immersion. Source: Daily Republic / AP photo file.

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