Lac qui Parle Mission: Stories and Reflections




Lac qui Parle Mission

Dallas Goldtooth: “The Dakota that you’ll find in South Dakota, North Dakota and Canada and Montana, used to live in the area of Big Stone Lake and Lac qui Parle. And they talk about it to this day that this is their homeland.”

Narrator: In 1835, missionaries arrived to establish the Lac qui Parle mission on Dakota homeland. The missionaries transcribed Dakota, a traditionally oral language, into written bodies of work. The mission was self sustaining for more than 10 years.

Tamara St. John: “The missionaries actually had to fight to be able to print, use and speak the Dakota language. So their efforts for the written language have really helped in the preservation of our language.”

Dale Weston: “And then they started putting the hymnals, the Bible and the curriculum for the children in the Dakota language.”

Narrator: The Lac qui Parle mission officially closed in 1854, due to low attendance. Less than 15 years later, the Dakota were forcibly removed from the Lac qui Parle area, following the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

The Boarding School Era

Sid Bird: “My grandfather told me the old ways are gone. We have to learn the ways of the white man. In order to take your rightful place, it will require you to go to school.”

Narrator: In the late 1800s the U.S. Government established a federal boarding school system. The aim of the boarding schools was not only to christianize the Dakota community, but also eliminate Dakota culture altogether, by forcibly removing Dakota children from their parents.

Dallas Goldtooth: “The obvious objective of the Indian boarding schools was to get Native people into the workforce of America. But the subversive objective was the idea to weaken them to the degree to where it’s just easier to erase them off the map.”

Sid Bird: “We wore army uniforms, marched to school, marched to our meals. Hut, two, three, four...everything by regimentation. Six years old.”

Lillian Wilson: “My little sister, I had to take care of her all the time. I had to always protect her and help her. She was so small. She was scared. They should have known that.”

Elmer Weston Speaking (from the 2002 MPR piece, “Exiled at Crow Creek”): "Summertime we wanted to stay at the boarding school, because we like it. Well, he'd say, 'No, you can't stay over there, you better come home. You might forget how to talk Indian,' he said. He didn't want us to lose our Indian language."

Elsie Noelle: “You lose your language when you go to boarding schools because we had signs on every door that said, “Speak English!” And if you don’t, you get strapped.”

Sid Bird: “I was there initially three years without coming home. It never occurred to me that one day I’d go home. My grandmother embraced me and she began speaking to me and I made the most tragic discovery of my life. I suddenly realized that I could no longer communicate with my grandparents. My own language had been beaten out of me.”

Narrator: Despite the attempt to eliminate the Dakota language over time, the ever resilient Dakota community remains deeply connected to the language today.

Dallas Goldtooth: "They didn’t finish the job. Their mission wasn’t accomplished. We’re still here. I’m still here. The voice you’re hearing is still here and I still can claim myself as a Dakota man.”

Importance of Bringing back the Dakota Language

Grace Goldtooth-Campos: (Graces speaks Dakota) "Dakota ia Tiospe Ota Yuha Win” (Grace translates into English) “My Dakota name is 'Tiospe Ota Yuha Win,' which means 'She Has Many Relatives.' (Grace speaks Dakota) “ Oceti Sakowin etanhan Bdewakantunwan hematanhan. Cansayapi heciya tanhan wahi. Cansayapi otunwe ed wati.” (Grace translates into English) “I come from the 7 Council Fires, my people are the Spirit Lake Dwellers and I live in Where They Paint the Trees Red, which is also referred to as Lower Sioux Community.” (Grace speaks Dakota) “Dakota iapi tewahinda.” (Grace translates into English) “I cherish the Dakota language.”

Dallas Goldtooth: “The Dakota language, our dialect is on the brink of extinction and we need to do something proactive here.”

Narrator: Today, there are efforts in the Dakota community to bring back the language as a way to preserve culture and spirituality.

Grace Goldtooth-Campos: “As you learn your history you’re going to learn that there’s some things that happened to our Dakota people. It’s going to build a fire within you; it’s going to be either negative, or you can turn that into something positive and drive you to learn your language, to preserve our way of life and our culture.”

Dallas Goldtooth: “Learning the language, it’s an act of bravery. For multi generations we have been told that the brand of Dakota carries no value. We are at a place within Dakota communities where that’s changing. You’re taking a stand, saying: ‘No, actually, I’m going to remain who I am and I want to learn my language. I’m not going to give that up’.”

Carrie Schommer: “The culture and the language, you can’t separate them, they’re both the same. The culture and the language it’s one.”

Dallas Goldtooth: “You may not be able to speak fluently, you may not be able to speak accurately or in the proper form, but it still gives you some connection to your ancestors, which brings contentment and pride.”