Five first-language Dakota speakers are alive in Minnesota; all over age 67.
Ariella Leith, whose Dakota name translates to Sacred Sun Woman, teaches language to children from birth to age 5 at “the first and only Dakota immersion school on tribal lands.”
With state funding, revitalization efforts have had some success, as 33% of community members were learning or speaking Dakota in 2022, up 20% from 2019.
“It took a lot of resources and time to take our language away from us historically and now it will take a lot more to bring it back,” she said.
“Little represents the rich cultural heritage of Minnesota more than its indigenous languages,” said Keegan Flaharty, grants and contracts manager for the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council. But due to the scarcity of native speakers, absence of accessible instruction and overall urbanization and assimilation, many indigenous people have lost their language.
To save Dakota and Ojibwe languages, Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) sponsors HF901 to appropriate $4.6 million during the 2024-25 biennium from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund to the council for language preservation and other duties. The council has received annual funding since 2010.
The House Legacy Finance Committee laid the bill over Wednesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion.
Of the appropriation:
Skyler Kuczaboski, grants administrative specialist for the council, can speak Ojibwe after learning through the St. Paul public schools and now in college, but her grandmother no longer can.
“The lack of fluency in our communities is a painful reminder of the historical trauma we have, and when we learn our language, we heal our pain that remains from the past.”