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South Dakota poised to recognize official native language

Troy Heinert

Troy Heinert

PIERRE – After hearing fervent appeals from a roomful of native speakers, the legislators on the State Affairs Committee voted unanimously Feb. 8 to ask the Senate for an amendment making the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota dialects the official indigenous language of South Dakota.

The bill, introduced by Lakota lawmaker Troy Heinert, reads: “The official indigenous language of the state is the language of the Oceti Sakowin, Seven Council Fires, also known by treaty as the Great Sioux Nation, comprised of three dialects, Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota.”

Septuagenarian Dakota speaker Faith Spotted Eagle of Lake Andes brought grandchildren with her to the Committee session.

“This has been a long time in coming,” she testified. Recalling how she was forced to attend an English-only elementary school when she knew only Dakota, she added, “It’s going to make me happy because it’s going to open doors.

“The important thing is to support it and understand that you come from a land called Dakota. If you teach Spanish in school, you definitely have to have Dakota.”

Rosebud Sioux Wayne Frederick called the measure’s approval “one step further to respecting the 250,000 tribal members that live here. It’s 2019 and we have to learn to live together,” he said.

Also speaking in favor of the legislation were Peter Hill of Pine Ridge, Bryan Charging Cloud of Wounded Knee, Rep. Peri Pourier, Dakota Rural Action lobbyist Rebecca M. Terk, Sierra Club lobbyist Mark Winegar, Sen. Red Dawn Foster, Sicangu Treaty Councilor Phil Two Eagles, and Blaze Starkey of Wakpala.

South Dakota Newspaper Association lobbyist Justin G. Smith was the measure’s sole opponent. He noted that initial wording implied publications would be forced to print in more than one language. However, amendments made in committee put to rest that ambiguity and his argument.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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