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For this piece I used a lot of background knowledge from a mission trip that I took the summer of 2010. I learned a ton about the current lives of Native American people and took a lot of interest in the reservation in general. As I researched the problem Native Americans have with literacy, I became increasingly concerned. In this paper I take time to reflect on these current problems taking place within our own borders.
The Removing of The Indian We know hardly anything about the country that we live in. This is because in general, our own lives are too difficult to overlook. Relatively, we have everything easy; huge problems to us are very small elsewhere. What is hard to believe is that there are people who are living in our borders who live life nothing like the “typical” American. The Sioux tribe in South Dakota lives every day with their natural amenities dwindling including their native language and literature. If nothing is done to stop this, the Lakota tribe will lose what
they have always thought of as their identity. Many people don’t know that there are tons of languages native to the US besides English. One of the most incredible of these is called Lakota. It is the language spoken by the Sioux people of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Unfortunately, it McPadden 2 is the greatest amenity the people have, but it is increasingly becoming extinct. What is so wonderful and different about the language is how each word really speaks to the earth. Every word or phrase tells a story which explains a phenomenon (Gahagan). This shows you what type of people the Lakota actually are. They find pleasure in the natural things around them and they worship everything that is free, or at least those who know it do. What really separates Lakota from English? The difference in words in general is a big part but the real separation comes in usages. The Lakota people see Language as a tool for speaking. They are the masters of the “oral literacy” and use spoken word more than any other type of literacy life reading or writing (White-Kaulaity 560). Speaking is most important for telling stories from memory, which entails the majority of their literacy. Stories are how they keep track of the history of their ancestors and the world and also how they account for different phenomena that arise in nature. English is not a suitable spoken language for the usages in Lakota literacy. In fact, they don’t
even want a language for use other than speaking. The Lakota language is a main component that separates their tribe from all of the others. Language in general is something that defines a group of people, no matter what it is. The linguistic diversity among the different tribes of the US is what creates the cultural diversity among them as well (Biava 46). Their certain language is the clearest way to show the differences among them. Tribes use their own language to display culture through prayers, stories, values, philosophy, and beliefs. All of these things differ
McPadden 3 throughout groups, thus the importance of diversity of language. If nothing is done to stop the loss of Lakota, the tribe will be threatened with a loss of identity. You may be wondering what is stopping them from reading and writing. English speakers take some pride in stories but WE have a strong written language. There are many reasons the Lakota people and many other Indian tribes only have accounts of their language in spoken form. Literacy other than speaking is seen as negative. It is also viewed as inconvenient and unnecessary to the future. In fact, “Native American culture demands that people be involved in activities with tangible, practical, and visible results. Reading and writing are not considered to be such activities” thus, the lack of interest (White-
Kaulaity 561). Writing is actually considered a very static and dry activity that they are not interested in (Biava 48). Reading and writing are not appealing and have never really been used unless necessary. Native Americans see them more as tasks than activities. This brings up a problem. If we need to preserve the language, but the Native Americans are against written accounts, what is the solution? One claim is to stop the Lakota from hating reading and writing. Hatred towards reading and writing among Lakota roots from the history of Native Americans and English settlers. Native Americans have a very negative impression of white people as a whole. During the time of The Cold War, Americans had very bold ideas of assimilation. They wanted all Native Americans to speak English in order to help communication and make the country what they considered as more united. Many Native American children were sent to Catholic boarding schools and had the “Indian beat out of them” (Biava 46). In these boarding schools whites forced them to McPadden 4 write everything down in English. If they disobeyed, they would be abused. Because of this, the Native Americans still view writing as a form of detachment from the outside world and as a punishment, which are two things that their language and principals as a tribe are not based on (Biava 48). Children were afraid to speak their own language in fear of punishments so many abandoned it. There were
few that rebelled and remember it, some still living on the reservation. Currently, the last generation of fluent speakers ends in people who are in their forties and fifties (BlueArm 164). Last year, I got the pleasure of speaking to an elder who went through this experience. Fortunately, this man was one of the very few living people who still knows the Lakota language, making him a living library (Gahagan). When the few fluent in Lakota pass away, there will be no hope for the survival of the language. This needs to be changed but many problems stand in the way. Many people are unaware of the conditions experienced on an Indian reservation. The majority of people picture tepees, colorful headdresses and close family bonds. Indians are known to be free, living by the land, having battles and killing buffalo. Perhaps this was what was experienced years ago but not today. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota was a place that I could never have imagined. They are struggling to avoid the American push to assimilate and let go of their real culture. I have never seen such poverty all around as I did in Eagle Butte, SD. The most noticeable problems were the lack of resources. The reservation is the size of Connecticut located four hours away from many normal conveniences such as Home Depot, a vet and a fully functioning hospital. The biggest establishments in the area include a Dollar Tree and McPadden 5
Dairy Queen. Children have free time to do anything they please, but they are directed towards things such as burglary and gangs. Another shocking aspect of the reservation were the stray animals around. They were clearly mistreated with their matted hair, begging for food, closely resembling small skeletons. Some people say that the very obvious neglecting of the Native American animals mirrors the way that the Native American people neglect the children. They are often starving, abused, and forgotten about. Children are born every day into a family that doesn’t want them and can’t afford them. The unemployment rate is far higher than anywhere in the US and so people must find ways to occupy their time to get their minds away from troubles: television and gangs. The teen and child suicide rate is startlingly high and only increasing. Because of the very depressive nature of the situations people are in, literacy tends to be the last thing on their minds. Having spent time with young children, I can say that they are just like any typical US citizens. Most don’t realize their lives are terrible and so they are very eager to just enjoy life. As the kids get older though, they start to get into bad situations with violence and drugs because they see it is what the older people do. It is a terrible cycle but can it be fixed? Should literary improvement take place to fix these problems or do the problems need to be fixed before it can be reintroduced? Can literacy and language help The Pine Ridge Indian
Reservation go back to it’s roots? Many solutions have been suggested but there still seem to be no huge changes. A former English teacher on the Indian Reservation, Marlinda White-Kaulity thinks that reading and writing need to be taught in order to be loved. She thinks that if they are introduced to a child at a young age, they will be prevalent in people’s lives forever McPadden 6 (White-Kaulity 562). It can be assumed that the children’s love for literature will keep them out of some trouble but what about the Lakota language being taught again? In a survey, “over 80% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with issues that support language preservation efforts” but there is no effort being taken to support this (BlueArm 162). White-Kaulity thinks “we can’t have a clear vision if we always have tears in our eyes about our past” (562). This isn’t suggesting that Native Americans should forget about their past troubles. Instead they should embrace their culture, against many American’s wishes, and make their language once again, prevalent in their lives. It seems very simple but the actual steps to this intended solution are much more difficult than assumed. As I mentioned before, the entire reservation is poverty-stricken. Any suggestions to bring language back involve money. For example hiring well-trained teachers, changing road signs, making a reference book, etc. A Lakota
woman comes to the following conclusion: “Lakota people must first try to overcome many things before they can reclaim the language poverty and drugs, alcohol, violence, suicide, and a loss of identity for a younger generation caught in between two worlds” (Gahagan). It seems as though there are too many problems in a land that for many reasons, is too unstructured to add a language change into the mix. There is no single solution to this massive problem besides creating a time machine, but that could be very dangerous to the fate of the world. Instead, we need to help. It is our duty as Americans to erase the stigma that our ancestors left for us. Our small problems in life don’t compare to a six year-old Native American attempting suicide because he can’t find comfort in his life and is afraid to return home. We need to McPadden 7 get Lakota back to South Dakota. Children find comfort in books and literacy fosters family bonds. An interest in these things will not only keep kids out of trouble, but also wanting to learn more. So next time you get a flat tire or break your cell phone think about this: there are people in our own country who haven’t showered in weeks and have absolutely no food to put on the table. These problems stem from their lack of identity because of the dissolving of their cultural framework: Language. All problems are relative, but they can in no way be compared.
Works Cited Biava, Christina. “Native American Languages and Literacy: Issues of Orthography Choice and Bilingual Education.” Kansas Working Papers in Linguistics. 15:2 (1990) : 45-59. ERIC. Web. 1 November 2010. BlueArm, Marion. “Assessing Lakota Language Teaching Issues on the Cheyenne River Reservation.” Indigenous Languages across the Community. (2002) : 2-17. ERIC. Web. 1 November 2010. Gahagan, Kayla. “Indian Reservation Works to Save Lakota Language.” Indian Country Today. N.P., 30 April 2010. Web. 29 October 2010. White-Kaulaity, Marlinda. “Reflections on Native American Reading; A Seed, A Tool, and A Weapon.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 50:7 International Reading Association (2007) : 560-569. ERIC. Web. 26 October 2010.
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