|The following story was written and reported by Christina Rose, Native Sun News Correspondent. All content © Native Sun News.
Albert White Hat joined the spirit world on Tuesday, June 11. Courtesy/James Michael Raphael
Saying goodbye to Albert White Hat
By Christina Rose
Native Sun News Correspondent
MISSION —The Sicangu Lakota lost too many leaders last week, but those who knew Albert White Hat, 75, know the legacy he left behind.
White Hat, who entered the spirit world on Tuesday, June, 11, had been committed to Lakota language and cultural preservation from a very young age. His passion for retaining the information given to him by his parents and grandparents resulted in many books, but perhaps none more important than “Writing and Reading the Lakota Language” (1999).
Well known as a leader in language preservation, White Hat appeared in many publications and videos. In videos and articles, White Hat often spoke of how he managed to avoid the St. Francis Boarding School until he was 16. His time in the school caused him to begin to believe the anti-Indian propaganda, but White Hat reclaimed his heritage in the 1960s, when he learned that many traditionals were still practicing their language and culture underground. "I started to find what I was happy in the most, and that was the language," he said in a “Cowboys and Indians” magazine article.
For White Hat, preserving the original meaning of Lakota words was part of preserving the spirituality he had been taught by his elders. Born November 18, 1938 near St. Francis, to parents Joseph and Emily Hollow Horn Bear, White Hat, White Hat spent his entire life on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. In a YouTube video, White Hat spoke about the result of five years of vision quests, which helped him come to terms with what had been done to the Lakota people. “The only way I was going to be happy was to forgive; and I cried that morning because I had to forgive. And since then, every day I work on that. I don’t know how many people feel that way, but if you are Lakota, you have to deal with that at some point in your life,” he said.
Perhaps because of his understanding, White Hat encouraged people from all walks of life to attend the Sundance. He was a teacher and a role model for all who studied with him. White Hat attended Sinte Gleska University in Mission, and received an Honorary Doctorate Degree. He taught Lakota Studies at SGU for more than 25 years, and he was a member of the Aske Gluwipi Tiospaye.
Tina Martinez of Sinte Gleska University and the Lakota Studies Department, wrote in White Hat’s memory, “In life, he gave information freely to everyone he met and answered questions whole heartedly. He found life to be cherished and wanted to share his thoughts, and ideas but most of all to share his time.”
Dr. Archie Beauvais, director of the Lakota Language Preservation Project for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, taught at Sinte Gleska with White Hat for more than 20 years. He also had the honor of reviewing White Hat’s draft of his first book on the Lakota language. Beauvais remembered White Hat fondly and with respect. “Some elders take it upon themselves to impart knowledge or their philosophy of how we should conduct ourselves, and sometimes elders take that opportunity to pass on some of what they have learned, what they do, and it’s valuable. If you are attuned to the culture, we learn by listening and often Albert took advantage of that responsibility,” Beauvais said.
Beauvais described White Hat as an intellectual and the kind of person who always greeted others with a handshake, “even if you saw him 2-3 times a day. That caught on at the college. He was very personable and I liked the fact that he always invited me to a sweat lodge at his house; he was generous in that way.”
All who knew White Hat said he often spoke of the Lakota people who went underground with their spirituality in the 1940's and 50's. Beauvais said White Hat was definitely one of the language carriers, and that he was also a relative of the Dwayne Hollow Horn Bear, who together with White Hat were co-leaders of the Sundance. “The responsibility will be upon many of us now as we continue to share what we have learned about the Lakota language and spirituality,” Beauvais said.
Jacqui White Hat, Albert’s daughter, posted a letter on Facebook that she had received from James Michael Raphael, who described the time he knew White Hat. “He was the heart and soul of the Sundance, which allowed for non-native people to participate so that we could all know each other better... We loved him. We celebrate Albert. We acknowledge that he has joined the spirit world, and that he no longer is in pain. For this, we are thankful.”
In Rapid City, former Sinte Gleska student Lynette Noline remembered taking Lakota language, teachings and health history, and Lakota star knowledge classes with White Hat. Sharing her respect and admiration for him, she said, “He was a pretty interesting person. He taught the truth, he showed people the true way of wolakota, especially the songs and dances. He was always involved with everything going on at SGU.”
Noline said she was confident that the things he taught would be handed down through the generations. “What I learned from him, I utilize it every day. There were so many things I learned from him about the old ways.” Noline cried with sadness as she described the loss of Albert to the community. “You have to let people know you love them, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.”
(Contact Christina Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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