After going back-and-forth about the blog topic for this week, I finally decided to take a break from writing about conferences (let it be known, though: I'm SO EXCITED about all of the conferences coming up) to discuss Indigenous languages, especially the efforts being implemented to re-vitalize or "modernize" these languages and even incorporate these languages into health research and tribal health education. I am going to focus on the Dakota language, because that is what I grew up hearing and learning, but know that there are approximately 175 different Indigenous languages spoken in the United States today. Despite the vast number, indigenous languages have at least one thing in common: they're all beautiful. When you start to examine what the words mean, and you hear them spoken, you realize just how complex and majestic language can be. Often, a word translated from English to Dakota is given a new, richer meaning. For example, when I talk about my sister in English, you may be left wondering if my sister is older or younger than me. In Dakota, I would refer to her as mita┼ïka (my younger sister). I can talk about my u┼ïci (mom's mom) or my ku┼ïsi (dad's mom) and you would know exactly whom I'm talking about.
There are several organizations laboring tirelessly to preserve the Indigenous languages. The Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate (SWO) Dakotah Language Institute is the one I am most familiar with, because I stop by their offices to browse and buy cards every time I'm home. There are also schools developing Dakota or Lakota immersion programs, and they incorporate these languages into school murals, lessons, hallways, memes, and community settings.
The work that these organizations are doing is important on many levels. When I left the rez (Lake Traverse Indian Reservation) to attend college, my new friends didn't understand what I meant when I said, "Ayes!" or "Ennit?" or told them they were acting "bucky." Abigail Echo-Hawk (she's speaking at the Population Health Research Summit!!!) has referred to this as "talking Indian," and prior to hearing Abigail talk about it, I was embarrassed to say these words around my non-Native friends. Yet, it's important that we give ourselves permission to use these words, regardless of the audience, and to embrace our "Indian talk." We can't forget where we came from; our home, our people, the land, and our culture all need us to relish in and preserve these things that are inherently who we are. Remembering this can help us remain focused on the difficult work of celebrating and preserving our indigenous languages.
In the world of Native research, connection is important. We need to build relationships with tribal communities and show them that we aren't just helicopter researchers interested in completing our project or degree. Incorporating and promoting the use of the Dakota language (or the language of whatever group we are working with) into our research projects and health promotion endeavors is one way to do this. This doesn't mean that you have to start throwing "pidamaya (thank you)" on everything you send out; but it does mean regularly engaging with tribal stakeholders and giving them room to interject with suggestions that improve the cultural relevance of what is being done. Melissa Buffalo and I are working on some really exciting projects that are doing just this. We are working hand-in-hand with tribal community members to develop research result dissemination and health education materials that are culturally relevant, and the results have been absolutely amazing. Does this intrigue you? Come to the Summit and check out our poster!
Coming up next: We will talk about Tribal IRBs and how important they are! I will have a sidekick (one of the CRCAIH tribal partners) help me with this important, complex topic.
I will be your fearless blog leader and sincerely look forward to feedback, questions, suggestions for topics, cat pictures, and anyone interested in possibly being a guest writer.