Snapshots

Lakota: The Revitalization of Language and the Persistence of Spirit

New programs to teach and restore the lost language and cultural heritage of the Lakota Sioux offers hope for the children who live on reservations where dire poverty, suicide, unemployment and substance abuse have become a way of life.

For more than a century the Lakota language endured a deliberate and systematic attempt to eradicate it.

As a tool of colonization, the killing of language was a means of severing indigenous people’s ties to their culture, history and spirituality.

General Richard Henry Pratt in 1878 formed the first of many Indian boarding schools designed to “elevate” the Lakota to white culture. According to the Amnesty International article titled “Soul Wound: The Legacy of Native American Schools,” more than 100,000 Native Americans were “forced by the US government to attend Christian schools.”

The system, which began with President Ulysses Grant’s 1869 “peace policy,” continued well into the 20th century. Church officials, missionaries and local authorities took children as young as age 5 from their parents and shipped them off to Christian boarding schools. They were separated from their families most of the year, sometimes without a single family visit. Parents caught trying to hide their children lost food rations.

At the schools, native children were forced to worship as Christians. Their hair was cut, traditional clothing was banned and, according to “Soul Wound,” the elimination of native languages – considered an obstacle to the “acculturation” process – was a top priority. Teachers devised an extensive repertoire of punishments for uncooperative children, which included mouths being “scrubbed with lye and chlorine.”

The horror of the boarding school system actually went much further. In Canada, as Amnesty International explains, “a 2001 report by the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada documents the responsibility of the Roman Catholic Church, the United Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of Canada and the federal government in the deaths of more than 50,000 native children in the Canadian residential school system.

The report explains how “church officials killed children by beating, poisoning, electric shock, starvation, prolonged exposure to sub-zero cold while naked, as well as medical experimentation, including the removal of organs and radiation exposure.

In 1928 Alberta passed legislation allowing school officials to forcibly sterilize native girls; British Columbia followed suit in 1933. There is no accurate record of forced sterilizations because hospital staff destroyed records in 1995 after police launched an investigation. But according to the testimony of a nurse in Alberta, doctors sterilized entire groups of native children when they reached puberty. The report also says that Canadian clergy, police and business and government officials “rented out” children from residential schools to pedophile rings.”

These methods of dehumanization are contributing factors to the intergenerational or historical trauma still affecting the Lakota Nation today.

There are no children on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota who are fluent speakers of the Lakota language.

ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: Lakota: The Revitalization of Language and the Persistence of Spirit.

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