Nicole Werner, Contributor
Last fall, the “Echo” published my article in which I explained some of the reasons I believe it is important for Augsburg University to expand its reach with the AIS (American Indian Studies) and Language departments. I called for help from all of you by showing support and signing a petition to be presented at the upcoming department meeting and it paid off!
Starting in the fall of 2019, Augsburg University, in conjunction with MCTC, will not only be offering Ojibwa but will also, for the first time, offer Dakota language! Can I get a Woo-Hoo?! The class will be taught on Tuesday and Thursday evenings beginning at 6 p.m. I have already signed up. Who’s coming with me? It is, however, a pilot program. This means if registration numbers are too low, it will not continue.
I think I know what some of you might be thinking. Why would I take Dakota? How would that be beneficial to me? Why wouldn’t I take Spanish or another popular language, so I could communicate with the large populations of the world who speak it? While I encourage you all to research the subject for yourselves, if you aren’t familiar with my previous article, I will just give you a few of my own reasons for advocating for the revitalization of indigenous languages.
In the past few years, I have been working with a Native-run business called Star Nations as well as a non-profit called Gathering Thunder. Gathering Thunder provides support for native communities, particularly one of the poorest in the nation, Pine Ridge Reservation. I have become friends with many individuals from the Dakota, Lakota, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe peoples. Prior to this, I knew of the atrocities my European ancestors had committed, but it was from an outsider’s perspective. I have been blessed to be able to speak in depth with many of the elders, who have shared with me their personal stories.
One in particular, is Dellmarie Dullknife. Her great-grandfather was a revered chief during the time of colonization. In short, he led his people out of a prison camp and brought his son to Pine Ridge as it was too dangerous to travel in the extreme winter weather and under the threat of being caught. Chief Dullknife was found and executed, but his son survived. This man was Dell’s grandfather and belonged to the first generation to be forced into the boarding schools.
The infamous boarding schools were created to, “kill the Indian, save the man.” Unfortunately, many children were not saved. Many of these schools had their own graveyards with staggering statistics of children who went into the school, but never came out. Dellmarie and her sister were sent to a third-generation boarding school. The abuse and violence were not as harsh as the first and second generations, but it was no picnic for them. So many were abused physically, mentally and sexually. Dellmarie was punished if she was caught speaking her native language. There is so much more to say about the experiences of Dellmarie and the indigenous nations that I couldn’t possibly cover it all here. But for me, I feel an obligation to do whatever I can to show my humility and respect for the first nations and beautiful culture and heritage that was nearly destroyed.
I hope we can all look into our hearts and commit to doing something to help empower the first nations who inhabited the state of Minnesota before the very near genocide bestowed upon them. We all have the requirement of one year of language here at Augsburg. Would you prefer to use these credits to your own benefit of learning a global language? Or maybe you would consider using these credits to the benefit of others by being a part of the revitalization of a language which was stolen in the horrific attempt to “kill the Indian.”
This article first appeared in the Friday, April 20 edition of The Echo.