Only between 5 percent to 15 percent of enrolled members of the Oglala Lakota Tribe are fluent speakers of their native language, and most of those are older than 50. It’s an old story in Indian Country.
In this story in the Rapid City Journal, Kayla Gahagan tells of a nonprofit group on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation called Oceti Wakan that is trying to preserve the language.
“A culture is kept by the language in the deepest sense,” says Cindy Catch, director of the Oceti Wakan. “It formulates how one sees the world.”
Catch says it’s a hopeful sign that 41 percent of almost 9,000 households surveyed in 2007 reported having one Lakota speaker.
Gahagan talks to numerous elders who see language as a way to preserve culture and counter the pernicious influence of drugs, alcoholism and violence among the tribe’s young people:
Mildred Alkrie, a Manderson elder who speaks fluent Lakota, talks about the reservation with pride and disdain.
“I hit that Wounded Knee hill and I’m home, free at last,” she said. “We look out for each other.”
It’s home, and it’s hard.
“It’s paradise, with no civilization, no laws,” she says, tossing a thick black braid of hair behind her shoulder.
Alkrie speaks out on issues of tribal corruption, drugs and alcohol, and works to feed poverty-stricken elderly and the homeless. People feel torn, she said.
“They want to be Indian, but they don’t want to speak the language,” she said.
The link to the story will also lead you to a video of Lakota words.
Tags: buffalo post, Gwen Florio, Lakota, Language preservation, Manderson, Native American news, Native language, Oceti Wakan, Oglala Lakota, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Red Cloud Indian School, Wounded Knee