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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 4, 2003 - Issue 97


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Native Odyssey Highlights Importance of Language


by Jomay Steen, Rapid City Journal Staff Writer


La Fountain, 48, and 16 other Lakota people finished a 77-day journey from Pine Ridge to Washington, D.C.WASHINGTON — 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.

La Fountain, 48, and 16 other Lakota people finished a 77-day journey from Pine Ridge to Washington, D.C.

LaFountain, joined by members of the Seven Fires Foundation, concluded the Spirit Walk 2003 Race Against Time Thursday with prayers at the Washington Monument.

"This 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.

The 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.

An 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 language.

"It's 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.

Roger LaMere, 51, of Rapid City agrees.

LaMere says a lot of people are concerned, and education is vital to keep not only the language alive, but the culture as well.

"It has to do with our culture and even our way of praying," he said.

Through forced assimilation, the majority of native languages have disappeared from the Americas "and ours is on the brink."

Of 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.

Part of losing the language is the loss of the Lakota's traditional ways.

"For 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," LaMere said.

LaFountain 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.

As the seasons began to change, the group started at 7 a.m. and concluded by 3 p.m. or 4 p.m.

"It's 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," LaFountain said.

Seven Fires Foundation
The Seven Fires Foundation was born out of a deep commitment and desire to help our relations, preserve our ancient traditions and heal our Earth Mother. We are a vehicle for people of all faiths, colors and traditions to join together in mutual respect to address the problems that face us all. Together we foster ways of remembering and honoring the interconnectedness of all life.

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