Wambli Sina Win: Iyeska, the Interpreter, turning extinct

One of my earliest memories was my Grandfather calling to me, “Takoja,” grandchild, in the Lakota language. My Grandfather spoke to me from a different era, a different time. According to spiritual people, those who interpret the ancient language of the spirits, “Hanbloglaka,” are called “Iyeska” or interpreter. Likewise, when my Grandfather spoke the Lakota language to me, he was my interpreter. Today like the Heyoka, the “Iyeska” is an endangered species.

The ultimate expression of racial supremacy is to adopt a law which declares only one official language for everyone. In Oklahoma there are over thirty nine Indian tribes with a rich diversity of languages, traditions, customs and culture. Oklahoma also has Jews, Italians, Germans, Irish, Scots, French, Catholics who speak Latin, Hispanics and many other cultures whose primary language is something other than English, yet there have been several attempts to make English the official language.

“English only” is nothing more than blatant racism and it should be unacceptable anywhere. Language goes to the essence of a person’s identity and is essential to preserve any culture. Being able to speak and to pray in one’s own language is a personal matter into which government should not intrude. According to those who follow traditional Lakota spirituality, spiritual laws take precedence over man’s laws and Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery, does not discriminate.

Last week I visited the propaganda exhibit at the Smithsonian Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. I was moved to tears for I could see how Hitler rose to power. Hitler used the discontent in Germany and tough economic times to make a scapegoat out of the Jewish people, blaming them for Germany’s economic hardship and crime. In Oklahoma today, we are seeing some of this but instead of the Jewish people, it is the immigrants, the “illegals” who are targeted for discrimination and oppression.

It seems an Oklahoma State Representative, Randy Terrill, appears to have built a political career for himself by disingenuously blaming the “illegals” for much of Oklahoma’s economic problems and lawlessness. Apparently Terrill has forgotten that he is not that far removed from being an immigrant himself for all of this state was Indian Territory until 1907 when it was stolen from the Indians.

Several years ago, President Bill Clinton took a stand when he signed an Executive Order in which he refused to make “English only” as a prerequisite for those in need of government services. President Clinton recognized that not everyone is proficient in English. A wise leader respects and protects the rights of all of his people, not just the rich and powerful. It takes a strong leader to look after those who do not have power and to make a politically unpopular decision.

Our Native American Ancestors had pride and courage and they died to protect our way of life, our language and spirituality which predate any state or Congressional legislation. “English only” should be deeply offensive to anyone who values and takes pride in their Native American identity. Our language is who we are and what helps to distinguish a tribe from a business corporation. As our blood thins, it will take more than being “a card carrying Indian” to be Indian.

We and our leadership must ask ourselves who we are. For too long, we have allowed ourselves to be swallowed up and classified as “other.” As our blood seeps out, do we stand by passively and watch the body of the Indian turn into a corpse?

The curse today is ultimately selfishness. Tribal leaders, be strong for your people. Make a stand and protect what belongs to your people. Make a sacrifice for your people. Be courageous enough to reach out beyond your tribal affiliation to the Hispanics, the Jews, the spiritual people as well as others to oppose this “English only” policy for the racist policy which it is.

Racism is alive and well today but more cleverly disguised. There is strength in unity and a cooperative effort is needed to defeat this enemy. History is today in those who are brave enough to make it.

Our relatives the Tatunka (buffalo), the Wambli (eagle), the Heyoka (Thunder Dreamer) and our Iyeska (Interpreter) are becoming extinct, just as our languages. A wise Lakota Holy Man told me to remember that “The greatest deception in life is but our own reflection of who we think we are.” Have we become so acculturated, so assimilated that we no longer care about our language which is a key part of our identity?

Wambli Sina Win (Eagle Shawl Woman) is currently an Associate Professor and Director of the Bacone College Criminal Justice Studies Department in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Her grandfather was John Fire, Chief Lame Deer Tahca Uste, a well known Lakota Holy Man from the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota. One of her sons is also a medicine man. She has served as a Tribal Judge for the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, a Tribal Attorney and as a legal Instructor for the U.S. Indian Police Academy at Artesia, N.M. You may contact Wambli Sina Win, J.D. at wamblisinawin@yahoo.com She can be reached at wamblisinawin@yahoo.com.

Related Stories:
Wambli Sina Win: Eagle feathers being robbed of meaning (4/18)
Wambli Sina Win: Heyoka, a man taller than his own shadow (4/12)
Wambli Sina Win: Iktomi legend teaches us about human nature (4/4)
Wambli Sina Win: Uniting Indian Country with indigenous pride (3/28)
Wambli Sina Win: Don't take your elders, holy men for granted (3/21)
Wambli Sina Win: Lakota outraged by theft of sacred ceremonies (3/14)

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