Wakiyan Peta insists on being identified only as a “ikce wicasa,” a “common man,” which shows his dedication to traditional Lakota values and principles.
Aware of the endangered state of the Lakota language, Peta is concerned about the next Seven Generations. He says, “It took twenty years for me to learn a few very basic Lakota phrases and a few songs. I want something better for the next seven generations.”
He refers to the Seventh Generation Principle, a traditional Indigenous teaching which encourages consideration of the seven generations coming after you in your words, work and actions; and an injunction to remember the seven generations who came before you.
Peta is concerned that the Lakota language may not be known in the next seven generations unless his generation takes greater action to preserve and revitalize the language. His own children have now graduated from high school with very limited Lakota proficiency.
Peta says, “When my kids were still in school, from time to time we would hear from the teachers and administrators say, ‘Be sure the kids are in school and at their best on (certain dates). We’re going to have proficiency exams in (English or math or science) that day.’ I never once heard, ‘Be sure the kids are in school and ready to take their Lakota language proficiency exam.’”
Peta says his children were never tested for Lakota language proficiency. He thinks that testing and documentation of Lakota language proficiency is every bit as important as testing for proficiency in other subject areas.
He emphasizes that he is not looking for someone to blame for the deficiency of Lakota language skills. He is only looking for solutions and answers.
In September 1994, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (CRST) passed Ordinance 66, “The Lakota Language and Culture Education Code of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.” Amendments were passed on December 6, 2001.
Ordinance 66 contains these declarations and stipulations:
– “Today, the status of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe as a sovereign Indian tribe, our rights to self-determination, survival of our history, values, and political institutions, and our future self-sufficiency are directly related to, and dependent on, the vitality of our Lakota language and culture.”
– “The education of our children as fluent Lakota speakers is vital to maintaining Lakota as a living language and education of our children in our Lakota culture is vital to the maintenance of our culture for the next seven (7) generations. Therefore, Indian children educated on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation should be fluent Lakota speakers and well-versed in our Lakota culture, and history, including political institutions, upon their graduation from high school.”
– “Indian students are fully capable of fluency in both the Lakota and the English languages and complimentary instruction in both Lakota language and culture and English language and culture will enhance the overall educational skills and achievement of our students.”
– “The Tribal Council has a duty to enact minimum standards for education in Lakota language and culture for Bureau of Indian Affairs schools and tribal schools, and Tribal Council encourages public schools on the Reservation to provide the same curriculum to our Indian students in attendance there. The Bureau has a duty to comply with minimum education standards for Lakota language and culture.”
– “It shall be the policy of the Bureau of Indian Affairs schools and the tribal schools to encourage parents of Indian students to teach their children and youths Lakota language and culture and provide opportunities for our Indian children to use Lakota language in day-to-day conversation and to practice Lakota culture at public and cultural events.”
– “A minimum of one class period per day shall be devoted to instruction in Lakota language instruction for all Indian students. …A minimum of five class periods per week shall be devoted to instruction in Lakota culture or history.”
– “Tribal Council hereby pledges to devote the resources of the Tribal Council Cultural Preservation Committee to assist all reservation schools to meet the requirements of this Code and to plan a long-term project on curriculum development.”
– “Under the administration of the CRST Language Department, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Language Compliance Officer shall be the tribe’s regulator for ensuring compliance with the Ordinance.”
– “The CRST Language Preservation Board is established to set the Policy and Procedures for the Language Preservation Office. The Board will also provide direction to the Compliance Officer in developing instructional Lakota language studies to be introduced and implemented within the governmental structure of the tribe …”
– “The CRST Language Preservation Board may be designated by the CRST WoLakota Committee to be the entity for addressing a failure to comply with the Act. If so designated then the Board will consult with the appropriate entity to resolve the failure to comply and bring the entity into compliance.”
– “Based on expert testimony and research, Congress found in the Bilingual Education Act that a primary means by which a child learns is through use of the child’s native language and cultural heritage [and] instructional use and development of a child’s non-English native language promotes student self-esteem, subject matter achievement and English language proficiency.”
According to sources, the CRST Walakota Committee is inactive at this time. The source also stated that years ago the responsibilities of the Language Compliance Officer were folded into the responsibilities of another tribal position. Since then, there has been little to no compliance oversight.
Austin Sunka Luta is a Lakota language activist who says that the Lakota people are in “a state of emergency for language.” He also says that the current language curriculum and teaching methods in the schools are outdated and ineffective. Sunka Luta believes the Language Ordinance 66 needs to be amended again to include more accountability.
In a pre-election interview Ryman LeBeau, newly elected Chair of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said, “We’ve got to ensure that our language is protected. … it is a sacred thing that needs protection, just like any other sacredness in our culture.” With many demands competing for his attention, it remains to be seen how high a priority he will place on language preservation and revitalization.