The Dakota Iapi, the Dakota language is something I am absolutely passionate about and is very exciting to me for many reasons.
It is the first language of the land, the State of Minnesota is a Dakota word, and we know the language helps heal from historical trauma for Dakota people, the Dakota community and Dakota Tribal Sovereignty as a whole.
An elder Glenn Wasicunna said, “Dakota Oyate kiƞ Dakota Iapi kiƞhaƞ sdodkiyapi kte”, which in English means when the Dakota people speak their language, then they will know who they are.
This is because the language has our values, our history, our way of life all together in it.
D.H Whalen, Margaret Moss and Daryl Baldwin in their “Healing through language: Positive physical health effects of indigenous language use” discuss that the data exists on how learning Native language and cultural practices have palliative effects on smoking, alcohol and substance abuse (2016).
For Native Youth, we know that “When a school values and utilizes students’ Native language in the curriculum, there is increased student self-esteem, less anxiety, and greater self-efficacy” (Hakuta 2001).
All of this information points to benefits of learning the Dakota language.
So why is it not being spoken and where are the resources for this?
To put it concisely, because of the systematic initiatives of the United States government over the last centuries such as broken treaties, the Winnebago and Sioux-Dakota Removal Act, the Boarding School Era, the Indian Reorganization Act and the Indian Adoption Project, Dakota people endured a severe language and cultural loss to the point Dakota language is critically endangered on the Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale.
Today there are less than five first-language speakers in the State of Minnesota with C̣aƞṡayapi, the Lower Sioux Indian Community, having none.
So what are some ways we can continue learning the Dakota language and what are some ways we can support the Dakota Language revitalization efforts?
Currently we have Dakota Language being taught at the C̣aƞṡayapi Waḳaƞyeża Owayawa Oṭi (CWOO)- The Lower Sioux Early Head Start and Head Start, at Redwood Valley High School and Cedar Mountain High School, and there are Zoom classes open to anyone who would like to learn the language Mondays and Wednesdays from 5-6 p.m.
CWOO has put some Dakota language learning resources ranging from learning videos to books on our Web site at LSCWOO.com/dakota-lapi-resources/.
With all these efforts, we are already seeing more people speaking Dakota and are creating more resources to continue speaking.
Some ways folks can help in support are learning and speaking the language, donating to the organizations that are working to revitalize the language, and even giving positive mentions to the people learning and revitalizing the language as this work is very multifaceted.
We are stronger when we learn together for our community, and to me that includes folks who are Dakota or not Dakota.
We have uploaded a video of all of the Dakota words found in this article that will be in a video to help folks learn how to pronounce and get some more information on these words at LSCWOO.com/dakota-lapi-resources/.
– Vanessa Goodthunder is the director of the Lower Sioux Indian Community Early Head Start and Head Start program