Minn. -- The words date back to a time in Minnesota when English
was a foreign language -- when the prairies, the sun, and the wind
were described in Dakota.
summer the Dakota language is being spoken at a park in Renville
County; passed on at a day-camp to a new generation of young speakers.
It is not unlike the early stages of the bald eagle's flight back
from near extinction.
Goldtooth, 27, who teaches at the camp, took visitors to the cemetery
where his deceased grandparents are buried. It is where the Dakota
language had ended for his family.
all spoke Dakota, but they never taught my mom," he explains.
loss of the language is one legacy of the era of Indian boarding
schools. The Indian school in Pipestone and dozens of others throughout
the country served a government policy of separating Native American
children from their families, traditions and language.
the natives was the objective of Richard Henry Pratt, an influential
boarding school advocate who famously said in 1892, "Kill the Indian
in him, and save the man."
philosophies of Pratt and others like him were like a hacksaw to
a century's long chain that had linked the transfer of the Dakota
language from one generation to the next.
the bald eagle, there is no endangered species act to revive a language.
Those efforts have begun on a scale less grand in small pockets
across the state.
Leith is an elder in Southwestern Minnesota's Upper Sioux community.
In June she was recorded as part of an effort to capture on video
the state's few remaining Dakota speakers.
the project was launched three years ago organizers estimated that
the number of fluent Dakota speakers in Minnesota, who'd grown up
with the language, had dwindled to fewer than a dozen.
then several of those, including Gary Cavender, have passed away.
Before he died, an emotional Cavender recounted on video the day
at boarding school when he forgot his English and spoke Dakota.
As he told it, the teacher became angry. "'We don't speak
that devil's language. We speak English,'" he remembers her saying.
"Then she hit me. She really hurt me."
Leith grew up speaking the language, she does not consider herself
fluent. Still, her knowledge is sufficient to help mentor young
apprentices like Goldtooth who then share the language with teens
at summer camp. It is an effort to reconnect the broken links.
hundreds of years now the control of our lives has been dictated
by the decisions of others," said Goldtooth, "and we're finally
in a place as a people and as individuals where we can start taking
control of ourselves."
see this as we're trying to rebuild that tiwahe and tiospaye, that
family and that extended family component," said Teresa Peterson,
the executive director of the project known as Dakota
Wicohan - meaning "Way of Life."
what you're seeing is that reclaiming of kinship, in the way that
we treat each other. That's the way of life," explained Peterson.
Wicohan recieves its funding primarily through state and federal
grants, including monetary contributions from the Minnesota
Legacy Amendment administered through the Minnesota Historical Society.
Strong is among those learning the language through the summer day
camp. "I can eventually pass it down to my children," she said.
"I think it's a big responsibility."
a generational passage already renewed by Dallas Goldtooth who now
regularly communicates with his young children in both English and
can you see the world as a Dakota, if you can't define the world
with Dakota words?" he reasons. "That's where we're trying to get
Goldtooth among those convinced it's not too late to rescue the
language of the Dakota, as well as saving an early voice of Minnesota.