Native Sun News: Summit keeps Native languages on frontburner
The following story was written and reported by Evelyn Broecher . All content © Native Sun News.

RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA — The non-profit organization, Tusweca Tiospaye, recognized that the language of the Great Sioux Nation is nearing extinction and began their annual language summit in 2007. There are now K-12 language programs implemented in schools and adult classes will be offered in the near future.

In November thousands of people from 40 Sioux bands and one New Zealander attended the three-day Third Annual Language Summit at the Ramkota Hotel. Agenda material indicated the last major gathering of the Seven Council Fires was over 130 years ago which ended with the death of George Armstrong Custer.

Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the Sacred Canunpa (pipe), welcomed the people home to “the heart of everything that is,” the sacred Black Hills. Looking Horse led the packed Rushmore Room in prayer for the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Nations which comprise the Seven Council Fires. Thirty-six Dakota members from Canada made the journey as well as Timoti Karitu of the Maori tribe of New Zealand.

Albert White Hat, college educator and author said, “We’ve come from many challenges and tragedies. We used to have gatherings like this. We talked about who we are and where we came from. Then the Jesuits came.”

“For almost 200 years they tried to make us think like one. Religion came in and tried to make us like one. They gave us a god. So then we worship one god and try to worship like one, and we have more confusion than ever,” White Hat said.

“We lose our relationship with each other, because we focus on one Supreme Being, and we forget our relatives. We forget the idea of mitakuye oyasin (all my relatives). The directions we pray in represent our relatives, such as the Star People, the earth, and you. These are relatives we work with when we pray.

Wacekia means to embrace or shake hands with each other. Missionaries changed that to mean bow, kneel, and worship a Supreme Being. That’s what they taught us when we were little in boarding schools. Words can change us, and lead us astray. We have to be very careful in how we teach the language,” White Hat explained.

The two days of the summit offered 43 sessions to participants. Since L/D/N language includes history of the people, many sessions were dedicated to that.

Crow Creek Dakota Hunkpati presented Wokiksuye Dakota Oyate na 38 + 2. This session discussed the largest mass hanging in United States history.

Peter Lengeek, Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Councilman, explained, “President Abraham Lincoln ordered the hanging of 38 Dakota men on December 26, 1862 in Mankato, Minn. Two more men were hung the following year. We have a deep embedded depression from historical trauma like this. When I was young I asked my grandmother what it was and she called it “ioke sica.” She said we are always going to be this way until we reconnect with our language and heal.”

Later, a children’s session included the showing of an episode of the Berenstain Bears cartoon in the Lakota language. The series of 20 cartoons will be aired on South Dakota Public Television next fall.

Tusweca Tiospaye is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of traditional language and way of life for the youth. The organization offers teaching and promotional materials along with much, much more. Contact them or donate by mail to: Tusweca Tiospaye P.O. Box 693 Pine Ridge, SD 57770.

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