This News Website Is a Lakota-Speaker’s “Dream” could help preserve a threatened language

Lakota Language
Only about 2,000 people speak Lakota. Bob Rowan/Progressive Image/Corbis

Part of the charm of the internet is its ability to connect people interested in niche subjects. But the power of the medium goes far beyond introducing, say, fellow frosting art enthusiasts. Sometimes, websites can help preserve threatened cultural legacies. As Regina Garcia Cano reports for the Associated Press, that’s precisely what—the first Lakota-language news site—wants to do.

The website’s name, which translates to “dream,” reflects its creators’ dream to keep the Lakota language alive. According to the Lakota Language Consortium, only 2,000 people speak Lakota today, and the median age of Lakota speakers is above 65.

Peter Hill and Matthew Rama, who created the website, run a Lakota immersion daycare center on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Through the Lakota Language Initiative, a set of programs designed to revitalize the language, they set up a website that translates stories from the Lakota County Times and another South Dakota weekly. Cano writes that the site, which also includes audio clips, is designed to be accessible to people who are able to read or write Lakota.

The news site is the latest salvo in an ongoing war against the fading of Native American languages. For years, activists and educators have started to use technology to counter language loss. When individuals or groups stop speaking their language due to cultural pressures or interpersonal dynamics, the ramifications can reverberate for generations. As Erin Haynes, a University of California Berkeley linguist, writes, indigenous language loss creates and furthers cultural devastation.

Today, at least 52 of the 176 known languages once spoken in the United States have gone extinct or dormant, Jeremy Miller reports for High Country News. Lakota, which is a dialect of Sioux, has survived a widespread suppression campaign that included using corporal punishment to children who spoke the language at government boarding schools where they were sent after being forcibly separated from their families.

Today, other attempts to revitalize the language include letting children watch The Berenstain Bears in Lakota or use apps to help build their language skills. Lakota isn’t the only language that could survive thanks to technology: Caddo, Navajo and Mohawk are just a few of the indigenous languages that are being incorporated into apps, translators and games. It’s unclear what a handful of apps and initiatives can do for languages in danger of disappearing. But supplying quality content for people in their native languages is a step toward letting future generations grow up in a world with more access to the traditions that have survived despite generations of suppression.