Peace at Standing Rock

Covid – Native Peoples and their Languages

Work to preserve native languages is vital. In the United States, the danger to native languages is an immediate crisis and one that has been building since the first European settlers entered the “New World”. For the past 400 years, Native Peoples and their languages have been steadily and undeniably disappearing.

Since 2019, “the language of the Great Sioux Nation, comprised of three dialects, Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota” is the official indigenous language of South Dakota.

The Covid-19 impact on Indigenous communities puts new focus on protecting elders, preserving language and culture. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new study that specifically examines how COVID-19 is affecting American Indians – one of the racial and ethnic minority groups at highest risk from the disease.

CDC found that in 23 selected states, the cumulative incidence of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among AI/AN was 3.5 times that of non-Hispanic whites.

The elevated incidence within this population might also reflect differences in reliance on shared transportation, limited access to running water, household size, and other factors that might facilitate community transmission.

“American Indian and Alaska Native people have suffered a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 illness during the pandemic,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D.

We think Abigail Echo-Hawk put it best. As the director of the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) and the chief research officer for the Seattle Indian Health Board, Echo-Hawk says:

“The system of colonialism in the United States has created, and continues to increase risk factors for, poor health outcomes in Native communities.”

The U.S. government removed many Indigenous communities from their lands and confined them to reservations. Many didn’t have access to medical care and were cut off from their traditional diets and lifestyles, including spiritual practices that were tied to their homelands. Today, American Indians and Alaska Natives have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease than white Americans, as well as higher rates of suicide.

The system of oppression in the United States, Echo-Hawk says, “has built a perfect environment to kill us in a pandemic.”

Several efforts have been implemented to increase the language usage. It has been reported repeatedly that students are increasingly able to have Lakota conversations with elders. Revitalization efforts were further strengthened by the establishment of several Lakota language immersion schools (such as the Language Nest in Standing Rock and the immersion school in Oglala, Pine Ridge). Never funded enough.

Our Goals: to encourage linguistic research on American Indian languages, to foster the intergenerational transfer of language knowledge in Native American communities, and to develop a sustained and productive relationship between American Indian linguistic scholarship and the needs and aspirations of Native American people.

We encourages the active participation of scholars and students, both native and non-native, in the task of language preservation and revitalization.

We need more awareness, share the message.

Links to related websites:

Society for the Study of American Indian Linguistics (SSILA)
Survey of California and Other Indian Languages
Terralingua Partnerships for Linguistic and Biological Diversity


Some resources exist for self-study of Lakota by a person with no or limited access to native speakers. Here is a collection of selected resources currently available:

  • Lakota Grammar Handbook by Lakota Language Consortium, 2016. (ISBN 978-1-941461-11-2)
  • Lakota Vocab Builder (a smartphone app)
  • Lakhótiya Wóglaka Po! – Speak Lakota! : Level 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 Textbooks and Audio CDs by Lakota Language Consortium. (elementary/secondary school level)
  • New Lakota Dictionary. (ISBN 0-9761082-9-1)
  • New Lakota Dictionary Online. Learners’ forum, word search and translation page, practice lessons. Free registration.
  • Lakota: A Language Course for Beginners by Oglala Lakota College (ISBN 0-88432-609-8) (with companion 15 CDs/Tapes) (high school/college level)
  • Reading and Writing the Lakota Language by Albert White Hat Sr. (ISBN 0-87480-572-4) (with companion 2 tapes) (high school/college level)
  • University of Colorado Lakhota Project: Beginning Lakhota, vol. 1 & 2 (with companion tapes), Elementary Bilingual Dictionary and Graded Readings, (high school/college level)
  • Lakota Dictionary: Lakota-English/English-Lakota, New Comprehensive Edition by Eugene Buechel, S.J. & Paul Manhart (ISBN 0-8032-6199-3)
  • English-Lakota Dictionary by Bruce Ingham, RoutledgeCurzon, ISBN 0-7007-1378-6
  • A Grammar of Lakota by Eugene Buechel, S.J. (OCLC 4609002; professional level)
  • The article by Rood & Taylor, in (professional level)
  • Dakota Texts by Ella Deloria (a bilingual, interlinear collection of folktales and folk narratives, plus commentaries). (University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0-8032-6660-X; professional level) (Note: the University of South Dakota edition is monolingual, with only the English renditions.)
  • A “Lakota Toddler” app designed for children ages 2–9 is available for the iPhone.
  • Matho Waunsila Tiwahe: The Lakota Berenstain Bears. DVD of 20 episodes of The Berenstain Bears, dubbed in Lakota with fluent Native speakers.

We need more awareness, share the message.

Covid – Native Peoples and their Languages
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