Language revitalization is underway on the Wahpeton Dakota Nation, as approximately 15 people are learning the Dakota language.

Lois Standing and her father started the initiative after attending a language conference.

“We decided to create a committee of people that were first language speakers and myself and we wanted to have it on Wahpeton. We also realized that because there’s very few Dakota language speakers in Saskatchewan, but within our community, there’s really probably less than eight left,” explained Standing.

“We thought it was really necessary to have gatherings where we could gather the first language speakers, along with those who are interested in learning and to help to retain the language. And so that’s kind of how we started just the interest, the desire and the critical time as well to help to retain the language.”

The group began working with the first language speakers in March, and while the program was paused for a while due to COVID-19, meetings resumed in September.

Liara Tootoosis is a high school student from the Wahpeton Dakota Nation who lives in Saskatoon and travels each weekend to Wahpeton with her family to learn her community’s language.

“I’m glad to have the opportunity to spend time with our community’s language speakers and learn directly from them,” said Tootoosis.

“It’s really exciting when we meet.  The energy’s really good. People are so interested in learning. And I think some had grown up hearing the language spoken, and have lost language speakers in their own family. So, it was really exciting for them to come back and learn and listen to the speakers,” explained Standing.

Elders who are teaching Dakota discuss its importance and provide guidance on how to learn the language. Much of the practice has focused on sounds.

“While we’re learning the language there’s information within the language learning that that really connects us with our community that we get to hear stories. It also retains our history too, because they talk about things that are linked to our past and our community. So, I think people really feel that connection with the language and, and our own community’s history,” Standing said.

The group meets on weekends at Wahpeton’s school gym to practice Dakota.