It wasn't the blisters and shin splints that John LaFountain
remembered as he walked the last three miles of a 1,700-mile odyssey,
but the language of his ancestors.
Fountain, 48, and 16 other Lakota people finished a 77-day journey
from Pine Ridge to Washington, D.C.
joined by members of the Seven Fires Foundation, concluded the Spirit
Walk 2003 Race Against Time Thursday with prayers at the Washington
is the first step to ensure that the Lakota language is not lost
like many other languages of the Americas," LaFountain said
in a telephone interview.
Reno, Nev., man had dreamed about this walk more than a year ago.
It was the realization of a dream to conclude this important mission
of language awareness, he said.
enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota,
LaFountain wanted to bring attention to the dwindling population
of fluent speakers and the apathy of those left about learning the
been tremendous. A lot of people had no idea about what was happening
to our language. They thought it was thriving, while it's actually
on the doorstep of extinction," he said.
LaMere, 51, of Rapid City agrees.
says a lot of people are concerned, and education is vital to keep
not only the language alive, but the culture as well.
has to do with our culture and even our way of praying," he
forced assimilation, the majority of native languages have disappeared
from the Americas "and ours is on the brink."
South Dakota's American Indian population of about 59,355 people,
only several hundred are fluent. Of those, 75 percent are elders
and irreplaceable once they've died.
of losing the language is the loss of the Lakota's traditional ways.
a lot of youth, being a Lakota is to dance and sing at powwows,
and that's the extent of it. There's more to it than that,"
and his group walked the first 100 miles to Winner. After that,
they walked relay-fashion, covering 25 miles a day. Walking at the
height of summer with temperatures soaring to the high 90s and even
100 degrees, the marchers would begin at 5 a.m. and finish at 2
p.m. "It was brutal," LaFountain recalled.
the seasons began to change, the group started at 7 a.m. and concluded
by 3 p.m. or 4 p.m.
an experience that all of us will hold close to our hearts, and
it's been a very harmonious, a very powerful and moving event,"