The land called Minnesota is home to the Dakota people. The Dakota language reflects that relationship and it is evident in the names of different places throughout the present day state of Minnesota. The land, language, and way of life are all connected for the Dakota people and they cannot exist without each other.
Prior to European colonization, the Dakota language was spoken throughout the land. Dakota is traditionally an oral language so before contact the language was never written down. However after contact with European colonists the Dakota, missionaries Gideon and Samuel Pond wrote down the language. This was done to help convert Dakota people to Christianity.
In the 19th century Dakota people became literate in their language and wrote letters to each other. Two Dakota newspapers were published in the Dakota language, along with readers, the bible, and a hymnal.
In 1862 the Dakota declared war on the US government. The Dakota eventually lost the war and afterwards 38+2 Dakota men were executed in Mankato, MN on Dec 26 1862. Dakota men, women, elderly, and children were forced marched to Fort Snelling and held as prisoners until May 1863. They were then exiled from Minnesota and placed on reservations at Crow Creek, SD and Santee, NE. Eventually some Dakota came back home to MN. Others fled to South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Canada.
After the dust settled the Dakota were all placed on reservations. Then the US government decided to institute an assimilation policy to “kill the Indian, save the man,” which was developed by Col. Richard Pratt. This policy took young children away from their families to strip them of everything that made them Dakota. This included their culture, history, spirituality, and language. Many Dakota children were punished for speaking their own language. They were verbally, mentally, or physically abused for practicing their own traditions and speaking their language.
After boarding school many children went home and refused to pass their language on to the next generation of children. Then those children didn’t pass it on to their children. Slowly over the course of many decades the language started to become endangered because many fluent speakers did not pass on the language due to trauma endured through colonial institutions.
Today there are currently about 5 first speakers of Dakota that were born and raised in Minnesota Dakota communities along with approximately 20 speakers from Dakota communities outside of the state. There are currently more second language learners than first speakers of Dakota.
At this time, Dakota is rarely spoken in the home. It isn’t spoken in the community, at businesses and the government level in tribal offices. We do not currently have a land base where the Dakota language is spoken everyday even though we are in Dakota homeland. The Oyáte Language Bowl is an event to bring the people together to use our language to strengthen ourselves, our families, and our communities.