BY DAN COLEMAN
Time has robbed many Native American cultures of their languages. The Bloomington-based Lakota Language Consortium (LLC) is working to bring one back from the brink.
LLC began as a project of Wilhelm Meya, a native of Austria and a doctoral anthropology candidate at IU, who has been working with Native Americans since 1994. With 150,000 Lakotas living in the Dakotas, Meya viewed the language as one of the few with a viable chance of surviving into the 21st century.
Working initially with Indiana University, LLC became an autonomous nonprofit in 2004, culling the resources of Lakota tribal leaders, linguistics experts, and educators to form an organization dedicated to the preservation, revitalization, and promotion of the Lakota language.
“For us, we often say that the Lakota language is a linguistic treasure of the United States,” says Meya, executive director of LLC. “Language embeds the culture. There’s just a rich vein of ideas and philosophies that go back tens of thousands of years and it was important, just in terms of the culture and the language, making sure that’s part of the future.”
LLC has an office in Pierre, South Dakota, focused on testing the 15,000 students learning Lakota, and a Bloomington office, dedicated to grant writing, administration, and distributing K-12 learning materials, including textbooks and the New Lakota Dictionary, the first Native American-language dictionary in 70 years.
LLC also recently established the Lakota Language Teaching and Learning degree at Sitting Bull College, on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North and South Dakota, and at The University of South Dakota.
“Our vision is ultimately that all of that linguistic expertise eventually sits at the community and on those reservations,” says Meya. “What we’re trying to do is build the capacity of those communities to do the work they need to do to make their own language survive.”