The spiritual, cultural and political survival of the Lakota people is contingent upon the recovery of their language, said Bryan Brewer, president-elect of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
“As the incoming president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, I will waste no time in debating this need,” Brewer said Thursday. “We will move with purpose and conviction, and all of our available resources to address this challenge.”
Brewer, who defeated incumbent John Yellow Bird Steele in last week's election, will assume the leadership of the nation's second largest Native American tribe.
A retired educator, Brewer, 65, addressed the fifth annual Lakota Language Summit, being held in Rapid City at Best Western Ramkota Hotel. Representatives of 23 Lakota-, Dakota- and Nakota-speaking tribes from 11 states and three Canadian provinces are at the summit.
This is a turning point in history for the Seven Council Fires, Brewer said, referring to the seven major divisions of the Sioux Nation.
One year ago, the state and national alliances to save Native languages declared the Lakota language in a state of emergency. An action plan was suggested to the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Brewer said.
“The OST tribal council executive committee did absolutely nothing to address this growing emergency. They wasted an entire year,” Brewer said.
The tribe has pushed off the urgency to preserve the language for a long time, Brewer said. It has been talked about and then ignored, he said.
As tribal president, Brewer intends to lead a Lakota Language Revitalization Initiative that will focus on the creation and operation of Lakota language immersion schools and identifying all fluent Lakota speakers.
“We’re going step it up and take it before our council and find the funding for it,” Brewer said.
Along with creating a Lakota Language Commission, Brewer said he intends to create a Commission on Violence. He is also planning to fill his cabinet with skilled people who can help him address important issues facing the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, he said.
“We have so many problems. Our children are hurting and killing themselves. We have no safe houses on the reservation,” Brewer said. Too many Lakota children are in foster homes or have been taken away from their families and culture, he said.
Preserving the language and passing it on to future generations can be a turning point for the tribe, he said.
“It affects our culture, it affects our children. A lot of them don’t know who they are or where they came from,” Brewer said. “Through our language and our culture, they’re going to know where they came from, and hopefully, that will help. Somehow, it will be intertwined.”