Opinion

Sunny Clifford: Connecting with Lakota language and heritage





"You know you come from a nation of oppression when a month has to be dedicated to your heritage. It’s the only way the rest of the country will remember how their freedom came to be, if they can see through the majesty of feathers, beads, and face paint. And with that note I want to share my experience with my identity struggle as a Lakota growing up on an Indian reservation (where I still live). My mom raised me as an English-speaking Catholic. We lived off the reservation for a few years, tried to make it in American society, but eventually made our way back to the rez. We lived in California before we moved back, and I came home from school one day telling my mom how we played Indians and cowboys. She sat me down and told me I was an Indian and that I was born on a reservation and that’s where we were from. I was in the first grade and I had no idea. She told me I was an Oglala Lakota and she told me we had our own language and land. I couldn’t grasp the concept of an area of land being set aside for one group of people to live on. I did grasp the concept of language and immediately began hounding her about it. She taught me a few words, but wouldn’t teach me how to speak Lakota, that decision is her own accord. I’m sure she felt she had valid reasons for not teaching me, the result of oppression and colonization as I later learned.

We moved back to the reservation shortly after that time. I didn’t know what I was in for as a kid, but I was excited to be around other Indians. The kids weren’t nice on the reservation and it wasn’t easy for me to make friends like it was in California. I was obviously different in my mannerisms than the other kids. I grew up being called a white girl even though my skin isn’t translucent nor are my eyes colored. I was also called church girl because I attended Sunday services at the local Catholic Church and somehow everyone knew about it. I also attended bible school during the summer months because there isn’t much to do on the reservation. Bible school was a little bit more accepted, although I attended way past the age requirement and was ridiculed for that."

Get the Story:
Sunny Clifford: What Native American Heritage Month Means to Me (Indian Country Today 11/19)