-- About a quarter century ago, in the remote southwest corner
of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, the students of Loneman School
spoke the language of their chiefs, medicine men and ancestors.
the reservation, the students and their families spoke Lakota almost
exclusively in their homes, communities and at Oglala Sioux Tribal
youth no longer learn their native language at the same rate that
the language is lost through the deaths of fluent-speaking elders.
Wayne H. Evans, a professor in the school of education at University
of South Dakota, says the language is in danger of becoming extinct.
it's critically endangered," Evans, who is Lakota, said.
Charging Eagle, graduate department director at Oglala Lakota College,
Lakota language status is critical to a point of being lost,"
the hallways of Loneman School at Oglala, students speak, think
and learn almost entirely in English, according to officials. Although
the Lakota language has been ingrained into the school's curriculum
and bilingual programs, it no longer is learned at a rate that can
replace the shrinking circle of fluent-speaking residents.
Little Finger, cultural resource educator at Loneman School, has
watched the transformation.
years ago, 90 percent of the student body were fluent speakers,"
he said. "Today, those statistics have flip-flopped."
Bordeaux, principal at Loneman School, agreed, saying, "The
(Lakota) language is going away from us."
works hard to achieve federal and educational standards at the Bureau
of Indian Affairs school. But keeping and maintaining the Lakota
language isn't one of those government standards. "We, as a
people, need to
validate that. We need to value the language to save it," she
a language is key to saving it.
about 6,000 languages currently spoken worldwide are endangered
to some degree or dying out, according to a 2002 report by the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
the United States, fewer than 150 American Indian languages remain
of hundreds that once existed, according to UNESCO.
every single one is in some jeopardy, as are hundreds of other native
languages in Canada, Mexico and Central and South America, the UNESCO
An example: Earlier this winter, Florence Curl Jones, an Indian
healer and spiritual leader of the Winnemem band of Wintu Indians
in Shasta County, Calif., died at age 95. Jones, whose life was
depicted in the 2001 documentary "In the Light of Reverence,"
was also one of the last 10 fluent speakers of her tribe's dying
time to save it
the Lakota language is not at that critical level yet, it is a concern
for Lakota people who want to preserve the language to maintain
their culture and spiritual integrity.
estimates that 6,000 members of South Dakota's American Indian tribes
are fluent speakers of Lakota.
has brought the Lakota language to its current status is the United
States embracing one universal language English in education,
business, citizenry and government, Little Finger said.
a recent Oglala Sioux Tribal Council meeting, council members debated
agenda items, talked about financial reforms and agreed to sell
its tribal farm and ranch all while conversing entirely in
about half of the council speaks Lakota," Lyman Red Cloud Sr.
Cloud, a council official, is bilingual. Lakota was his first language,
which he learned from his parents and practiced in his home and
community. Red Cloud, who is now a grandfather, said he learned
English upon entering
school at age 4 or 5. In that environment, he said he was immersed
in the English language and learned quickly how to read and speak
was the only way that I learned it. The teacher only spoke in English
and, for me, it was pretty easy to pick up," he said.
though an Oglala Sioux Tribal Council resolution states that the
Lakota language is the official language of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation,
speaking Lakota at council meetings is the exception rather than
why we have difficulty with the council talking to the people in
their districts," Red Cloud said.
older population is more comfortable speaking in their native language,
and also have limited understanding of English, he said.
council meetings, Red Cloud often translates in both English and
Lakota for those who have difficulty understanding English.
he believes that everyone serving on the Oglala Sioux Tribe Council
should know the Lakota language.
Red Cloud, Little Finger's first language was Lakota. And Little
Finger also learned his second language in school, but education
drew him off the reservation and eventually into a career that took
him throughout the United States.
Little Finger values and continues to speak the Lakota language,
it is a practice that other native families have abandoned. In business
transactions, entertainment, and talking to medical providers, English
is the dominant language.
you can't speak English, you're out," Little Finger said. "That's
Finger says the loss of language includes a loss of cultural history.
To lose the language is to lose understanding of a unique people,
to me is a way of life; they can never kill our way of life,"
Little Finger said.
Little Finger, Stephanie Charging Eagle emphasizes that the language
encompasses not only their culture, but also their spiritual beliefsystem.
healers, spiritual leaders and specialized healers will acquire
their power through a dream or vision," she said.
today's society, more of these healers are not speaking the language.
The language is not being passed down from healer to healer, Charging
losing our spiritual strength," she said.
Eagle said that on a scale from extinct to dynamic, the Lakota language
falls somewhere in the middle.
we are stabilized," she said.
the communities, fluent conversations in Lakota still take place
at such social gatherings as celebrations, funerals, memorials and
powwows, she said.
she said revitalization of the language is needed in the areas of
education, governmental affairs, business, spiritual and kinship
addresses each other by the relationship terms, and so that area
is really being lost," Charging Eagle said.
the kinship system, addressing each other by relationship terms
immediately signals a level of respect for individuals and for each
other as a group.
when you have children no longer addressing their parents, each
other and older people by relationship terms, then the idea of respect
gets lost," Charging Eagle said.
Evans' first language was Lakota. For Evans, it is a source of pride
and surprise that he maintained his fluency in Lakota even after
his family moved off the reservation when he completed eighth grade.
a miracle I didn't lose it," Evans said.
in his culture, he would process his personal issues in his native
language. He used the language to address his spiritual side and
thought in his native language when reviewing his day.
has to be a sustained environment; there has to be a need to use
the language," he said.
said maintaining the language is as important as teaching it. But
he said that is difficult in today's world of electronic communication.
Boys, PlayStations, books, movies, magazines, radio, music and TV
saturate the lives of Lakota youth in English, he said.
the time you get up and every time you turn around, you're bombarded
it," Evans said.
Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Sioux reservations are fostering revivals
to keep their language alive.
Finger met with officials from Indiana University in Bloomington
to work on methodology, orthography, linguistics and software in
the Lakota language. The university has a record of helping with
language recovery in
other Indian tribes, such as the Pawnee, Assiniboine and Arikara.
South Dakota, Indiana University has formed a consortium with the
Loneman, Red Cloud and Wounded Knee District schools.
they will work on providing computer programs and curriculum materials,
including textbooks and teacher training, Little Finger said.
will be taught as a second language and as an integrated immersion
curriculum," he said.
the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has incorporated its native language
into classrooms. At the elementary and secondary schools in Eagle
Butte, Takini and Tiospaye Topa, two projects have been introduced.
Roach, program director of the Cheyenne River Schools Resource Consortium,
has overseen Cinca Wakpa Waste, a language development project for
grades K-2; and Yuowanca, a program for children in Head Start through
than a dozen fluent speakers of Lakota are at her disposal, and
they are assigned to various classrooms.
put fluent speakers into the classroom to team-teach with the teachers,"
songs and legends are tied into themes and then presented along
with regular classroom studies. Roach also helps organize a summer
immersion camp. This year, the students will take part in their
third summer of camp, where every syllable, utterance and gesture
emulates that of the students' ancestors.
what would make the programs better, Roach quickly replies that
more teacher involvement and time would make a huge difference.
need more time and training," she said.
said that he realizes the Lakota language is being taught in high
schools and colleges which the USD professor believes to be
a correct concept "especially at an earlier age"
but he also knows that a fluent speaker has yet to graduate from
fluency can be taught to older students, if there is interest and
a society to encourage speaking and thinking in that language, he
however, is running out for the pool of fluent speakers still available
to talk to those learning. If any of the language classes have produced
fluent speakers, Evans isn't aware of them. "I don't see the
results of that," he said.