In effort to preserve language, website posts news in Lakota

AP News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2016 5:49 PM

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A new website created with a primarily Native American audience in mind is posting news, features, sports and weather entirely in Lakota — the first of its kind to do so — in an attempt to help preserve a language that after forced assimilation policies is now spoken by fewer than 2,000 people.

The site was developed by partners who have been involved in several initiatives to embed the Lakota language in various aspects of life. Their goal with Woihanble.com — which translates to "dream" — is to get the language out of the classroom.

"Nowadays, everyone spends much of their daily life online; visiting websites, reading news, checking the weather, browsing social media, or any number of other activities," said Matthew Rama, one of the creators. "But until now, there has never been a site with as much content strictly in Lakota. So in that respect, we are bringing the language to the people in a brand-new way."

Other media outlets provide news of interest to the community, but in English. Woihanble.com's local news content comes from two area weeklies that mostly focus on Native American issues. The site has an agreement with those weeklies to translate stories into Lakota, with links back to the original articles. And in recognition that many people who speak the language well do not read it easily, news stories include audio clips in Lakota.

"A lot of fluent speakers are not necessarily accustomed to reading 1,500-word articles on arcane subjects," said Peter Hill, another of the website's creators. "So having the audio version and having the article read to you is going to make it a lot more accessible to a lot more people."

The Lakota people say their language originated from the creation of the tribe, long before Europeans came to North America. But the number of speakers has shrunk through the decades, falling to 6,000 by the early 2000s and to just 2,000 as of last year. Those remaining have an average age approaching 70.

A chief reason for the decline of Lakota speakers is a now-halted federal education mandate that in the late 19th century and early 20th century forced Native American children into boarding schools, where they were required to speak English and were punished if they were caught speaking their native languages. That limited or erased the Lakota fluency of some Native Americans who later were unable or unwilling to teach it to their children.

David Posthumus, an assistant professor of Native American studies at the University of South Dakota, said efforts to preserve the language can be bolstered by providing people with real-world resources.

"If you are learning German, Spanish or whatever, you have all kinds of novels, books, movies, TV shows, media, news organizations that you can to and get that kind of practical experience outside the classroom, and you don't always get that with Lakota," Posthumus said. "The ultimate goal is to inspire and empower younger generations to speak, comprehend, read and write the Lakota language."

Articles on the site now cover topics like meth on the reservation and a protest against an oil pipeline. The creators plan to post several news stories every week, and Hill will write some original content.

The website's creators are involved in other efforts to promote the language, including a Lakota immersion day care on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota that's funded by federal, state and private grants. The website does not have specific funding on its own, but is considered part of the same project.

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