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Tim Giago: Native youth lose connection to ancestral languages

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: languages, tim giago, youth

Tim Giago. Photo by Talli Nauman

Notes from Indian Country
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji)

My granddaughter will be seven-years-old in October. Like many children that age she is bright and she is inquisitive. Her name is Juneau.

Case in point: She posed this question to her grandmother; “Is the world coming to an end?” Her grandmother was a bit taken back by this inquiry and responded, “I don’t know the answer to that; only God knows.” As quick as a whip Juneau quipped, “What about Google?”

“Out of the mouths of babes,” might be applicable here. Or as Art Linkletter posed it, “Kids say the darndest things!”

But it has to make the average person stop and think. Has technology taken us to the point where our children believe that it is the answer to all questions? Has Google become so all knowing, all powerful and all seeing that it is viewed as the equation or equal to God?

It makes a person look back at where they have been and look forward and wonder where it is all going. I stopped to get a Coke and burger at MacDonald’s last week and watched two teenage girls seated at a booth next to me. They never said a word during the time I observed them, but instead had their thumbs going like crazy on their cell phones. They stopped texting just long enough to sip their soft drinks and take a bite of their burgers and fries. But they never said a word. What is going to happen to the art of conversation?

When I was a boy nearly everyone in the village of Kyle or Pejuta Haka (Medicine Root) on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where I was raised spoke the Lakota language. As nearly every language is converted to text I wonder if the young people on the reservation will text in Lakota or English. I would have to assume that they will text in English. When I questioned several Lakota teenagers at a basketball tournament last year they all said that they always text in English.

In an editorial I wrote that was directed at the teachers on the Indian reservations several months ago I posed this question to them: Are the young people in your classrooms texting in English or Lakota? Will they lose the foundation of their Native tongue because of technology? Not a single teacher on the reservation or anywhere in Indian Country where my newspaper reaches responded to my question. Is it because they do not know the answer to that question or have they even bothered to consider it?

There are those in Indian Country who believe that the loss of the language means the loss of the culture, but that may not necessarily be so because every Native American civilization in North America that is still here has adapted to the rapid changes that have occurred since the invasion of their country. The rapidity of change has nearly overwhelmed every culture and nationality on this continent.

The time from the horse and buggy to a man on the moon has happened in the blink of an eye. Now even some Christians are saying that Noah had dinosaurs on the Ark. If that be so then the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere, peoples who have existed on these continents for more than 30,000 years, must have hunted and eaten dinosaurs. Ah ha, one million BC revisited.

My granddaughter Juneau wanted to know if the world was going to end. I would have to tell her that “yes” it will end eventually, and “yes” Google will tell you the same thing.

But, I will have to add that conversation in any language may go first.

Tim Giago, Nanwica Kciji (Stands Up For Them), was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He is the author of 4 books and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the class of 1991 and can be reached at

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