Helping the Lakota Language Survive
At Lakota Country Times we have made a commitment to furthering the conversation surrounding the Lakota language. Internally we have come to the conclusion that as a newspaper serving multiple reservations where efforts to save the language are underway, LCT must be willing to publish multiple perspectives on the matter. Not surprisingly, the responses we get from our readers on this subject are often passionate and well informed. They have also come to be quite controversial.
Often times I am approached by friends and family who ask me to take on the subject and the accompanying political ramifications. For the longest time my response was to follow legislation coming out of DC and educate people about the benefits and successes of immersion school learning. I also made it a point to cover local events and conferences surrounding the language. Ironically, these relatively simple and apolitical stories have brought criticism and much needed discussion. One of the first lessons I learned as a journalist was that if I was good at my job I should be able to cover any topic. As a column writer I was taught that my role was to help spread ideas and create discussion.
I remember writing a story a couple years ago that resulted in a nontribal citizen lecturing me about who the actual authority figures are when it comes to our people’s language. Who granted non-citizens the ability to determine who the real “experts” are on Lakota language? Our language may be in trouble, but our fluent speakers are the ultimate authority on this matter -- not the linguists or the non-Lakota academics. Of course there is a place for these people in the effort but there must be a system in place that prevents our citizens and elderly from being supplanted by outside forces. This is our language and legislation needs to be enacted to protect it.
The difficulty that arises is that no matter how I cover this topic some will be offended as there are many powerful egos who will absorb some criticism as their is tension and disagreement on how to best save our Lakota language.
So over the next few weeks we will be running multiple columns written by Lakota language advocates from all different perspectives. As an editor I have never had a problem sharing ideas that are at ends with my own because I realize at this point in my life there are many many of our people, both young and old, who know far more about these issues than I will ever know.
One particular opinion that seemingly makes sense to me is for our tribal government and our district governments to create legislation that allows for our people to take control of our language and the way it is taught. I know that Rosebud has passed laws that guarantee that the language is taught using orthography developed by the late Albert White Hat. Maybe it is time for the Oglala Sioux Tribe to do the same.
If you have an opinion on the matter please submit it to us as we want to help our people have a serious and public conversation about the state of the Lakota language. *Brandon Ecoffey is the editor of LCT and an award winning journalist who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.