Celebrating native languages and combating cultural genocide
As early as 1819, the United States government had policies in place to ensure the cultural genocide of Native Americans. With the Indian Civilization Act Fund, Native children were stripped from their homes and forced to learn the religion, language, and ways of their oppressors in the Boarding School Era.
Native children faced physical punishment for speaking their Native languages and practicing their spirituality. General Richard Pratt, the founder of arguably the most violent boarding school in the United States, created the motto of the Boarding School Era, “Kill the Indian…Save the Man.” If the United States could not commit literal genocide by murdering masses of Native Americans, they tried to destroy the cultural and spiritual ties to their internal being.
Generations later, the trauma is interwoven into our DNA, contributing to illnesses such as, diabetes, depression, and posttraumatic stress that run rampant throughout Indian Country. This trauma pervaded our communities, causing assimilation to white society and instilling fear of practicing Native spirituality, wrongfully driving traditional ceremonies underground. One hundred and fifty years after these oppressive polices were enacted, Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 to protect the practice of Native American spirituality. With a revitalization of Native spirituality, came the revitalization of Native languages.
3 Generations’ upcoming film, The Dakota Project will shed light on the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara (MHA) Nation, who are faced with the North Dakota oil boom’s impact of environmental degradation to their ancestral lands. The film will showcase the work of spiritual leaders who are guiding younger generations to understand that spirituality and language are inherently tied to our lands, songs, and history. As a Lakota and Ojibwe woman, a graduate of Native American Studies, and an assistant to this film, I knew that to better understand the people of the Three Affiliated Tribes, I would need to learn their history, spiritual practices, and their languages.
Across Indian Country, tribes are working to revitalize their languages. Curriculum has been added to schools, immersion camps, immersion day cares, and many other efforts are celebrating Indigenous languages to keep our cultures thriving. The Dakota Project has joined in this celebration. Every Wednesday, I’ve taken on an initiative to share a word of the day and showcase a little of what I’ve learned from these affiliated tribes. As a student of Lakota language, I’ve come across similarities and differences between our languages. I am learning in this process that I am proud of my effort to learn from other tribes. During pre-colonial times, our ancestors of the Great Plains were multilingual and communicated across tribes. In my effort to share the vocabulary, I hope that it encourages our viewers and fans of our Facebook page to learn more the history of Indigenous languages and take time to learn from one another.
In case you missed it, here are a few of my favorite words that I’ve learned from the Three Affiliated Tribes. Take some time to learn a little too!
“Good” “Spring” (Season) “Mother”
Mandan (Nu’eta) Mandan (Nu’eta) Mandan (Nu’eta)
Shi Wehinu Na’e
Hidatsa Hidatsa Hidatsa
Tsạkits Miawakute Ikaŝ
Arikara (Sahnish) Arikara (Sahnish) Arikara (Sahnish)
AtíŝtIt Hunaaneeká Atiná
-Autumn White Eyes, 3 Generations
Freedom, Law, and Prophecy: A Brief History of Native American Religious Resistance by Lee Irwin–http://www.sacredland.org/PDFs/Irwin.pdf