Brandon Ecoffey: A wake-up call to keep Native languages alive

The following is the opinion of Brandon Ecoffey, Lakota Country Times Editor. For more news and opinion, subscribe to the Lakota Country Times today. All content © Lakota Country Times.

Brandon Ecoffey

A note from the editor’s desk
By Brandon Ecoffey
LCT Editor

When former Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer declared, as part of one first moves in office, the Lakota Language to be in a state of emergency it was a wake up call that efforts need to be made to ensure that this ancient language remain a living and active part of Lakota society.

At the time of Brewer’s declaration I had just entered the media industry and was shocked by the urgency of his message. The move would be the first of many that the progressive Lakota leader undertook but it did ring the bell that something needs to be done to preserve the language. The efforts by Lakota language advocates to successfully convincing a sitting Oglala President to make the unprecedented announcement that preserving the Lakota language would be an integral part of his office’s policy agenda was commendable but this effort cannot die and it needs the support of all.

Across the reservation newly started immersion schools are doing their part to create new first language Lakota speakers while Oglala Lakota College and other reservation schools are working to integrate the language in to their curriculum. Although efforts by Sen. John Tester (D-MT) and others in Congress are being made to find funding to preserve Native languages the reality is that Washington has never completely upheld their trust responsibility towards Native nations and cannot be relied upon to do so now. This realization has led me to reexamine what role that the media could play in promoting the language.

In many ways the Native media industry has failed to do its part in promoting Native languages beyond the occasional coverage of legislative efforts or brief profiling of individual immersion schools despite having the tools necessary to do more. At Lakota Country Times we bend the normal journalistic rules a tad to include the Lakota language within our paper as much as possible.

Students at Iyapi Glukinipi, the Lakota Immersion Childcare program on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo from Facebook

Each and every week Denver American Horse includes the Lakota language in his column by telling a story in Lakota, but also translating each sentence back in to English. The column is unorthodox but so are most of us who read news in Indian Country. Until I read Denver’s column I had never seen anything like the technique he uses anywhere in Indian Country.

In our obituary section we see the language being used not only by including the Lakota name of those who have passed but, also the familial terms that the family of the deceased have included in the obituaries they send in.

As a truly local paper, created with the Lakota reader in mind, we are willing to push aside some of the established rules of our industry to allow for the Lakota language to have its rightful place within this paper. Understandably this would seem to be a small gesture, and in a perfect world we hope that one day there is a newspaper written and read entirely in Lakota, but we are one of the few papers in the country willing to take these initial steps.

As we look for more innovative ways to promote the language we hope that the community can reach out to LCT and help us and others in the community to continue to promote the use of our beautiful Lakota language.

Brandon Ecoffey is the editor of Lakota Country Times and an award winning journalist who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

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