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Honoring Indigenous Languages: In Support of SB126

 

February 8, 2019


 

 

SB126 LLP Camp

A scene from Red Cloud's annual summer Lakota Language Camp 

 

The following is a letter written by Executive Vice President Robert Brave Heart Sr. expressing Red Cloud’s support for SB126, a new bill being considered by South Dakota’s legislature that would make Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota the official indigenous languages of the state.

 

February 8, 2019

To members of the South Dakota Legislature,

Háu Mitákuyepi, čhaŋtéwašteya napéčhiyuzapelo! (Hau my relatives, I greet all of you with a heartfelt handshake).

On behalf of the students, teachers, and administrators at Red Cloud Indian School, I am writing to express our wholehearted support for SB126, the bill that would make Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota the official indigenous languages of the state of South Dakota. While honoring the efforts of Native people who are working tirelessly to revitalize our endangered traditional languages, this legislation would also encourage a deeper and much-needed understanding of the many ways indigenous cultures and values continue to strengthen our society today. We humbly urge all South Dakota’s legislators to vote in support of SB126.

Among the Oglala Lakota people, it is understood that our culture cannot exist without our language. In the 1960’s, educators at Red Cloud Indian School began to bring Lakota language into the classroom, to create a learning environment reflecting the identity of Red Cloud students. Then, just over a decade ago, Red Cloud launched the Lakota Language Project (LLP)—and created the nation’s first comprehensive K-12 Lakota language curriculum, to support a new generation of fluent Lakota speakers and empower our students to take on the work of revitalizing this essential part of Lakota culture.

Put simply, the impact that language learning has been profound. Although estimates tell us there are only 6,000 fluent Lakota speakers still living, today the language is coming alive again on our campus and across the Pine Ridge Reservation. Lakota is spoken inside our classrooms and out—on our sports fields and playgrounds, in our cafeterias, on our school buses, and in the homes of our students and families. Our teachers say their students are more engaged in learning, and that academic outcomes are improving across the board, in subjects as diverse as English and physics. And parents and families are starting to learn and speak Lakota with their children—to restore a sense of cultural strength in our community.

Speaking our indigenous language is helping our students to develop a deeper connection to their Lakota identity. After many generations of cultural loss, they are reclaiming and celebrating their Lakota heritage, seeing it as something powerful and positive. Language is changing their lives in a multitude of ways—and empowering them to accomplish extraordinary things.

The passage of SB126 would send our students a clear message that indigenous culture and language is honored and valued, not just in Native American communities but all across our state. Its passage would honor the important role Lakota and other indigenous peoples have played in our state’s history and the contributions they continue to make today, as advocates, health care professionals, educators, and so much more. Indeed, if written into state law, SB126 would make a powerful statement to our students—and Native youth across our state—that Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota voices are being heard in a whole new way.

Wóphila tȟáŋka (many thanks),

 

Robert Brave Heart, Sr.

Executive Vice President

Red Cloud Indian School

 

 

 


 

 

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