may be nothing more important to a culture's identity than its language.
to National Geographic explorer Wade Davis, at the time today's
typical adult was born there were 6,000 languages spoken on earth.
Today, "fully half" are no longer being taught to school children.
at a map of Minnesota, names such as Minneapolis, Kandiyohi, Mankato
dot the landscape in reference to the Dakota language the
very first spoken in the state.
the existence of the very language from which the word "Minnesota"
derives is in danger of being lost. In fact, after the recent passing
of two Dakota elders, including local Rev. Gary Cavender, only nine
first generation speakers remain to pass on the vernacular as it
was once spoken true to the sound and inflections as it had
been expressed, at one time, in abundance.
knowledge should indicate what makes "Dakota Wicohan's" mission:
to preserve Dakota as a living language, and through it, transmit
Dakota lifeways to future generations, so important to all Minnesotans.
While the significance to the Dakota people runs far deeper.
the words of Dakota Wicohan Board Chair, Gabrielle Strong,
"The Dakota language is in a state of crisis, and with it the Dakota
culture, oral history and way of life. Culture is a lens through
which we view and understand our world. Therefore, unique Dakota
thought and understanding shifts and declines with each passing
year, and with each passing elder."
in its eighth year, Dakota Wicohan, or Dakota Way of life,'
is working toward the fulfillment of its mission by building a base
of speakers, teachers and leaders; facilitating learning and language
immersion opportunities and connecting the language to Dakota "life
variety of funding sources, from large foundation contributions
down to individual donations, sustains the group and has permitted
their efforts to support: three language apprentices, a Lower Sioux
Youth Program and most pertinently a video production dubbed: "Protecting
past Saturday, Dakota Wicohan held a preview of their film "Protecting
Our Language" in the back room of the Granite Falls Bank and F&M
with connections to Dakota Wicohan were invited to the event to
see the preliminary production that has been in the works since
number of the first generation speakers from the Upper Sioux will
appear in the completed version of the film, including: Rev. Cavender,
Genevieve LaBatte, Dean Blue and Carolynn Schommer.
Throughout "Protecting Our Language," Dakota elders express opinions
and provide insights into the culture while alternating between
the English and Dakota languages. In effect, the purity of the Dakota
language and paradigm is captured through the first generation speakers
and it is something to think that had the taping not begun
prior to Rev. Cavender s death last April, that he would have
never appeared on film.
Cavender's portion of the video the reverend recalls his time as
a student in Granite Falls and gives insight into the type of incidents
that led to the suppression of the Dakota language over the years.
to answer a question directed his way during a class, Cavender said
that, in his flustered state, he began to answer in his native tongue.
The teacher responded by calling Cavender to the front of the class,
and brandishing a ruler with a metal edge stated, "We do not speak
that devil's language here. We speak english."
that the teacher struck Cavender's hand, causing such profuse bleeding
that "a much bigger boy put paper on it to stop [it]." But of course,
such wounds go much deeper.
have to keep our language alive, not just Dakotas, but all nations,"
said Cavender on screen. "Once we lose our language we no longer
exist as a nation. We are Dakota and our children should be taught
A recurring theme expressed by others interviewed in the film, is
the suggestion that by "getting back" to the Dakota way of life
and language, the opportunity exists to heal much that ails the
culture societally today.
year old Genevieve Labatte recalled a childhood in which the Dakota
way was still more prevalent, "We were relaxed, and we were happy.
We didn't have a forcible life. We slept good at night. And we ate
spoke of the spiritual nature of the language, and of the profound
effect it had on her elders when they gathered and conversed in
Dakota. "They were so happy when they got together to talk Indian.
It seemed like it relieved them of something and it made them so
who teaches a Dakota language class at Yellow Medicine East, expressed
what she believed could become of the language in the future.
never be like it was 7,500 years ago," she said. "But it will be
close to that if everyone works together towards it. And I think
it's something native people should look at ... Who we were is what
we want to try to get back to."
the time following the preview of the production, additional Dakota
speakers have been interviewed for the documentary and it is the
expectation that the film will be completed by the end of the year.
out to the crowd of mixed ages and backgrounds following the end
of production, Schommer mused aloud that "it is good for the soul
to see all of this because it brings back memories, but we want
to have more than just memories."
the ongoing efforts of Dakota Wicohan, they will.