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Any language was created to be shared

A controversy reigns up on Standing Rock between certain tribal members and a group called the Lakota Language Consortium (LLC). The tribal council, siding with certain tribal members, has banned the LLC from the reservation, citing their wanting tribal educators to pay for Lakota language materials LLC produced.

The LLC was started a couple decades back by two non-Natives, and in an attempt to preserve and comprehensively catalog the language, they interviewed many tribal members, and the members were happy to receive compensation for their essential contributions.

Every controversy can be boiled down to its core truth by applying logic and reason, something that, sadly, does not happen much on tribal councils. They tend to respond emotionally, and when that emotion is reinforced by others, they think it is wisdom, and it is not.

Language was created by men as a way to communicate with others, to share their thoughts in a more detailed way than gestures could achieve. The nature of a language, its reason for existing, is to share. For this reason, no language can be owned. It belongs to any ear that can hear it, any mouth that can speak it, any hand that can write it.

Language materials on the other hand cost money to produce. Tribes are used to government paying for anything they need, want or use based upon treaty obligation. Unfortunately, this mentality has been extended into all other aspects of tribal life, so that the tribe develops a mentality that everything is something tribes have coming free of charge, everything is connected to a well-deserved treaty obligation.

This does not mean treaty obligations are being met, let alone exceeded, because they aren’t. But the mentality that everything is a treaty obligation has soaked down deep into the roots of a tribe, and it can make them very unkind and ungracious and unreasonable.

The LLC came to the reservation as humble guests, willing to learn the language, and help preserve the language through efforts that required a deep commitment and the funds to realize that commitment. Whether they should have eaten the costs of those materials, just to avoid this controversy, doesn’t matter. The point is they deserved to be treated with consideration and respect, the same consideration and respect the tribe routinely demands others pay them. Having a haughty chip on your shoulder, that compels you to mistreat and make enemies of people who have proven themselves friends over many years, serves no good purpose.

(Contact James Giago Davies at

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