Ivan F. Star Comes Out. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Ivan Star Comes Out: The Lakota language is becoming obliterated by colonialism

How the west was won includes obliteration of culture

By Ivan Star Comes Out
Native Sun News Today Columnist

I listen to the radio (KILI-FM) nearly every morning. I enjoy the music, especially the old traditional songs or as someone said, “Those songs with words in them.” Mahpiya Watakpe (Byron Charging Cloud) and Kangi Nunpa (Robert Two Crow) speak Lakota throughout their show on Saturday mornings and keep my own Lakota vocabulary alive.

Other times, I hear things on the radio that are simply irritating to me as a speaker of the language. I know and appreciate the fact that people mean well by using the language as much as possible. However, this entire language learning process has gone awry and someone has to bring some awareness to it.

First, let’s take a look at something that may be deemed irrelevant by many natives. Colonialism is generally defined as the policy of political control over another country by occupying it with settlers and exploiting it economically. This “How the west was won” mentality includes obliteration of our ancestral history, government, and language, among other things.

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again. Contrary to what some people have said, our Lakota way of life is not diminished because it is primitive and useless. Our ceremonies, customs, language, history, and land have been legislatively targeted for obliteration by the United States government so they could establish their own and thus maintain dominance over us.

I am constantly hearing talk of a rebellion. All I know is that in our present state, we are not capable of such a thing. A true revolution begins with taking back Lakota language, our tiospaye histories and system of governance, culture, and all that has been obliterated by the colonial power, the United States government.

There is absolutely nothing anyone can do to prevent anyone from relearning Lakota language. It can be done. I have personally witnessed more than one person transition back to speaking their Lakota language. Also, I have witnessed non-Lakota people, generally of Europeans origin, learn our language and use it proficiently. Then I see our own people refusing to learn it.

Is this the result of the expansionist policies of the new colonial power, the United States? Is this the reason behind Lakota people refusing to learn their language while non-Lakota people are able to learn it easily? One thing stands out and that is these good people have not experienced the brutal colonialist activity here on the continent. This is just some food for thought.

Anyway, back to the alterations regarding the language relearning process. The same can be said with Lakota culture, spirituality, and history. The entire process is now at a point where it is getting difficult to determine the original anymore. Who truly knows the accurate names of the 13 “moons” our people used to keep track of time?

So, let’s take a peek how people have been using Lakota language today. A common alteration involves the guttural sounds of the Lakota language. It seems simple enough to replace those difficult gutturals with English sounds. Doing so is now common and no one gives it another thought. However, it changes the language completely into something that is neither English nor Lakota.

I imagine people do it because it is convenient but this seemingly harmless deviation distorts and eliminates our Lakota language. For example, the guttural “K” in Lakota is almost always replaced with the English “K” sound and the “t” sound is replaced with the clear English “d” sound. Lakota language does not have that solid “d” sound.

The result is a new colonized word replacing the autonomous Lakota word. Also, adding the English plural suffix “s” to Lakota words is a powerful form of language obliteration. I have heard older Lakota language speakers use this particular quirk with Tunkasilas, takojas, or Oglalas or Hohwojus, and Sicangus, etc.

Another language distortion involves shortening Lakota words to “tunkas,” “cannup,” “og,” or “maz” (mazasksa; money) and Itazipco when it shoud be Itazipa Cola (Without Bows or Sans Arc). Yet another is using words like “bebela” to mean hoksicala (infant) and “pupila” for sunhpala (puppy). Not to embarrass anyone but I see an absolute failure by such speakers to recognize colonialism.


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How the west was won includes obliteration of culture
Ivan F. Star Comes Out can be reached at P.O. Box 147, Oglala, South Dakota, 57764; via phone at 605-867-2448 or via email at mato_nasula2@outlook.com.

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