Ivan Star Comes Out: Lakota people disrespect our language

The following opinion was written by Ivan F. Star Comes Out. All content © Native Sun News.

The flag of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

OST enrolled members are doing away with Lakota language
By Ivan F. Star Comes Out

I came into this world immersed in Lakota language and culture. Sixty years ago (1954), I was placed in a parochial boarding school here on the Pine Ridge and endured punishment for speaking it. In accordance with government assimilation policies, I was not allowed to speak my language and instead was taught English, a skewed American history, and the bible.

Today, the same school is teaching our youth Lakota language and that is encouraging. At the same time, it is annoying to hear what our own people are doing to the language. I may be wrong but I detect an air of indifference and disrespect for my language each time they articulate a new language that is in a category of its own. I hear it on KILI radio and I see it on Facebook.

I am amazed at how people actually communicate with it. To me, when a person incorporates Lakota with English, it is an embarrassing display of illiteracy. I heard also that it may be an expression of mutiny toward the dominant culture but I have my doubts about that. However, when it is applied to Lakota, it simply shows a person’s ignorance of the history of Lakota language loss.

This strange new language, which is neither English nor Lakota, is destructive to our already diminished Lakota language. This merging of languages has resulted in some strange words like ates, inas, uncis, kakas, igmus, takojas, or canunpas. Analogous of the round post and square hole, the two languages cannot be integrated without altering one or the other.

I am reminded of the ever so simple yet highly philosophical words spoken many years ago by my late brother-in-law, Edwin Fills the Pipe, “If you are going to speak English, speak it right. If you are going to speak Lakota, speak it right.” Additionally, I feel that if one refuses to learn my language, one ought to stay with his or her language of proficiency.

It is bad enough that we have been experiencing language loss since Columbus’ time and we are now at the next to final stage of total language loss. Perhaps people do it without realizing the harm they bring to our cherished Lakota language. In any case, the Lakota language is being gravely altered by this new language now used by tribal members.

This new jargon simply suppresses the active use of Lakota and is contributing to its absolute end. These people must also realize that our language is not endangered because it is outdated and useless nor are we being punished for some grave wrong our ancestors committed. It is disappearing because it was targeted for eradication by the dominant English-language speaking populace.

Indigenous language loss is the same as loss of land, culture, and life. Far too many refuse to see the holocaustic nature of our biased relationship with the new nation. A small percentage of Lakota people realize this great historic devastation but many more are indifferent to it. Many appear indifferent and detached from this reality as they stand on the attitude of letting the chips fall where they may.

The damage is great and deep. For instance, one of the very first of our fatalities is the fact that our ancestors were intelligent and human. Today, we are still regarded as “dumb Indians” by the majority, including tribally enrolled members. Contrarily, our ancestors lived by highly ethical principles. They built a culture that withstood the greedy and avaricious nature of the newcomer.

It was through the art of deception that our true identity was fraudulently distorted and is now nearly obliterated. This historic one-sided relationship with North America’s Indigenous people was done for a specific reason. Let us open our eyes to the fact that the newcomers considered themselves God’s chosen and superior to all others.

We were taught the myth that our ancestors were, by God’s will, irreligious, uncivilized, and spoke the “devil’s tongue.” Modern children’s books, history books, and popular news media continue to perpetrate this view that began in the Vatican 562 years ago. People of the North American continent were treated as inane war-like creatures that stood in the way of civilization and progress.

The saddest part of this mindset is that most tribally enrolled members of Congress’ own Oglala Sioux Tribe believe wholeheartedly in this fallacy. We must remember that native language speaking people were collectively attacked and nearly obliterated for the reason stated here.

This strategy was so adeptly applied that I was actually ashamed to be “Indian” when I finally dropped out of school in 1964. Like many in my generation, I wholeheartedly cheered the rescuing cavalry as they charged in with bugle blaring to save the righteous pioneer wagon trains on their way to “win the west.” No one told us that they were going west in search of personal riches.

I believe another deterrent to language acquisition and a contributor to language loss is the continual introduction into our dilemma new and “better” orthographies or alphabets and grammar books. Never mind that all of today’s proficient speakers learned the language in an immersion environment. We grew up in an environment where everything Lakota was more prominent.

Conversations were conducted at a high level of intelligence without using the English language. Today, most cannot speak Lakota without the English language. An important element that must be absolutely considered is to develop new words for the contemporary world we live in today. We simply cannot immerse ourselves in Lakota language if we do not have words for modern amenities.

Along with merging the two languages, the gutturals of the Lakota language seem to be a major deterrent for learners. Even the so-called “superior” European languages incorporate gutturals. Consequently, the gutturals are omitted which further contributes to language death. Most commonly mangled is Lakota. Again, this idiosyncrasy only serves to diminish and destroy Lakota language.

Another instance of language/cultural loss is apparent today in how we give praise or approval to another or to others. The European way is to clap the hands together. Today small pockets of people still practice the Lakota way of voicing approval with a male “hau!” or female “lilili.” I am dismayed to see tribally enrolled people making fun of this particular feature of our culture.

Again, we were taught that these particular cultural protocols, as well as our ancient time-honored language, are regressively crude and useless. Another perspective is that such people are of a European mindset which renders our language “foreign.” I believe this is why the gutturals and double consonants are so difficult to articulate.

Anyway, one solid method to help our language make a comeback is to become aware of everything attached to it. It ought to go without saying but I’ll mention it anyway, again. Speaking the Lakota language is not merely memorizing words. True language revival must include all its relevant cultural particulars like history, spirituality, cultural protocols, laws, and government.

(Ivan F. Star Comes Out, POB 147, Oglala, SD 57764; (605) 867-2448; mato_nasula2@outlook.com)

(Editor’s Note: The damage done to two or three generations of Lakota children by Red Cloud Indian School (nee Holy Rosary Mission) by punishing them and forbidding them to speak their Lakota language needs to be assessed. The fact that the school now is actively teaching the language does not diminish the historical damage that was done prior to this)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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