Lakota Waldorf School
Students at the Lakota Waldorf School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where youth are immersed in the Lakota language and culture. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
Keeping truth and integrity in Lakota language and culture
Monday, March 15, 2021
Native Sun News Today Columnist

Being born in a time when Lakota was spoken by nearly everyone around me allowed me to become fluent within 6 years.

I learned English in a parochial residential school (Holy Rosary Mission) on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Although my first language was forcibly banned, I held on through ten years of that genocidal decree.

The school had renounced my culture and effectively removed from my memory. Relearning it actually occupied the bulk of my adult life. In do so, I learned to respect other cultures as much as mine. Recently though, I found an alarming situation where people are now incorporating other native ancestral teachings into Lakota culture. An example is the increasing use of “Turtle Island.”

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

Our oral tradition does not mention “Turtle Island.” I do know that this name originates among eastern nations like the Annishinabeg (Ojibwe) and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). It is their narration of the creation of the world. Turtle Island is a marker of identity, culture, autonomy, and a deeply held respect for the environment. Also, “Turtle Island” contains the basis for spiritual and cultural beliefs.

I hardly hear Ina Maka (Mother Earth) or Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) or Inyan (Stone) among the Dakota/Lakota/Nakota language-learners. These names originate from our Otokaheya Kagapi Wicowoyake (First Creation Story). Our oral tradition tells us that the Creator, Inyan, with Unci Maka, created the world. The Tunkasila (Grandfathers) and tatuye topa (four directions) come later in the chronology of our oral tradition.

Also, the word “Ate” (Father) is used often in prayer. I stand to be corrected but this seems to refer to the “Father” in Christian theology. I mean no disrespect to anyone but this is one example of imposing one’s faith upon others. This quote, “Belief aspires to truth but often does not entail it” (DeNicola, 2017), is reminiscent of America’s Manifest Destiny ideology.

Anyway, my formative years at that parochial boarding school made me somewhat versed in the Bible. As I grew older though, I began to question the Bible’s teachings, especially in light of the condescending and roughshod treatment I endured as a Lakota language speaker. Being penalized for speaking my first language, the only language I knew, may be forgivable but I will never forget it.

The expression, “Red on the outside, white on the inside” closely described my cultural identity by the time I quit that school. Thus, I spent the rest of my adult life relearning my Lakota culture and slowly became aware of my Lakota oral traditions.

Then there are those who attended government day schools who grew up within their Lakota language and culture and are thus more knowledgeable.


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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

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