In 2000, the United Nations proclaimed International Mother Language Day, making every February 21st a day to recognize and honor all the languages on the planet as “the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage … and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue,” as the UN proclamation states. In that spirit, the Language Conservancy, in cooperation with the Lakota Language Consortium (LLC), created February 21st “Lakota Language Day” to shine a light on an endangered Native American tongue.
LLC asked its speakers, learners and teachers to take note of this day for several reasons:
1. Remember the elders who kept Lakota songs, traditions and ceremonies alive;
2. Remember the generations silenced in the boarding schools;
3. Remember the Code Talker soldiers of World War II, who had to keep their service a secret for so long;
4. Remember the civil rights activists of the 1960s and ’70s who fought for Native cultures’ and languages’ right to exist;
5. Honor the speakers who have brought their understanding of the language into classrooms and have done their best to find a way to teach it;
6. Honor yourself and your fellow students for your commitment to learning and speaking the language.
LLC called out to its Twitter and Facebook followers to tweet in Lakota if they could. The responding tweets did their work, and the Lakota Language Day story was picked up by Indian Country Today newspaper. Their story about it was posted online the same day, and has been seen by more than 20,000 people.
Whether for Lakota Language Day, Crow Language Day or International Mother Language Day, there are many things one can do in the home or classroom to honor an endangered ancestral language:
- Learn a new word, speak and write it all day when you can;
- Teach someone a new word and practice speaking it with them;
- Text someone in your language;
- Write a story in your language;
- Ask a speaker to help you with pronunciation or understanding of a word or phrase.
Reviving a Native language requires a quiet little revolution in every learner – that much determination, that much dedication, that strong of a decision to go for it. Making a special day for the language can be a reminder that now is the time to make the language your own – even if it’s just one word or phrase.