New Lakota-translated children’s book honors history

"Tatanka and Other Legends of the Lakota People," seen in a May 1, 2019 photo, will be the first book in the history of the Young Readers program by the South Dakota Humanities Council to be made available in both Lakota and English for second-graders next school year. (Shelly Conlon/The Argus Leader via AP)


Garfield Elementary fifth-grader Jaeden Brugier has been learning to speak the Lakota language throughout the last year.

Yet for someone wanting to share the history and legends of his ancestors with his peers, he felt as though he’s never had a true chance, he said.

The school library has less than five books translated in Lakota, and reading sessions often made him feel almost invisible, he said.

But a statewide effort by the South Dakota Humanities Council is about to change that by giving second graders copies of the 2019 Young Readers One Book “Tatanka and Other Legends of the Lakota People,” the first book in the history of the Young Readers program translated in both Lakota and English, the Argus Leader reported.

The initiative comes after legislators passed a law in March to officially recognize O’ceti Sakowin, which is comprised of the dialects of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, as the official indigenous language of South Dakota starting July 1. The law comes almost 30 years after South Dakota chose to honor its Native American heritage by forgoing Columbus Day and renaming the holiday Native Americans’ Day.

The state is one of only a handful to change the holiday, and the language law also made it first state in the contiguous United States. The book depicts three legends authored and illustrated by Oglala Sioux Tribe member and Rapid City resident Donald F. Montileaux.

Students received the book this spring to read during the summer, a press release from the council states.

In the Sioux Falls School District, however, the books will go to third graders this fall through school libraries, so it’s fresh in the students’ minds when the author speaks at the South Dakota Festival of Books from Oct. 4 to Oct. 6 in Deadwood, which hosted by the humanities council each year, said Ann Smith, the district’s curriculum services program director.

Delaying the book’s distribution also means getting it in the hands of more children, Garfield Elementary librarian Susan Thies said. She’s been a librarian for two years and a classroom teacher for 19.

“We have such a transient population, they move (often) and have issues at home and food scarcity,” Thies said. “So we always let the second graders know the (program) is coming up, that way in the fall this is ready to go for them.”

The book is a perfect way to give children insight into another language in a way that honors the Lakota history and connects with families who might not have a great relationship with public schools, including with those once prohibited and punished for speaking Lakota in schools years ago, Thies said.

Before this book, students who didn’t feel connected to what they were reading often slumped in their chairs. Their faces drooped down or they wandered the library, not knowing what to pick out, she said. There was no emotion tied to the words they read, she said.

“This gives value to our history, to say, ‘I see you,’” Thies said. “When you walk into the libraries, you (often) see books about little white boys, little white girls and their dogs and cats. But do our African American students from Africa see themselves? Do our African American students from America see themselves? Our Lakota children will see themselves, they’ll feel valued because the state has said this is important.”

Once she received one, Thies showed a copy of the new book to Bugier, who immediately spent time searching for the Lakota words he knew to match them with English words, she said. He immediately begged her to let him check the book out to bring it home to his family.

Unfortunately, the book wasn’t ready to borrowed yet, Thies said. But that’ didn’t stop Bugier from being excited about the possibility, she said.

“Of course, we want children to be fluent in English, but at this age, (a book like this) opens the world,” Thies said. “It’s like a passport to different cultures and countries. And you get to know you’re own country and culture better when you step out and learn about others.”

Bugier will be going to a new school next year, and though he isn’t one of the third graders receiving the book, he knows the book will help bring awareness and understanding to part of his culture and current political issues in the state, he said.

And with a younger sister and cousin still on the campus, he also hopes his peers will use the books to continue a school club he started and wishes to carry it on to the middle school level, he said. Called the Circle of Courage Club, it’s a club that allows anyone to teach anyone else about their culture and history, he said.

“I’m really hoping I see that book and other books that are Lakota and English, and if there is, I’ll be really happy,” Brugier said. “I’m hoping that when they learn everything, they’ll be like me and try to research more and more about their Lakota history.”

For Thies, she hopes this will inspire more South Dakota authors to reach out to schools or to write and publish in indigenous languages now that the three languages are recognized, she said.

“When you read these books, the children sit up, and they sparkle,” Thies said. “Our children who are sometimes so silent and never say anything, they can’t stop praising their hand. And all of a sudden they’re proud of their history. They’re proud of the present.”

Information from: Argus Leader,

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Books | Reviews, Synopsis, News, Author Interviews and more...: New Lakota-translated children’s book honors history
New Lakota-translated children’s book honors history
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