During the recent interest in my post about Native American artist Paha Ska, which means “white hills” in Lakota, I got curious about the Lakota language. I found to my surprise that there is quite a bit of information available about Lakota. According to Ethnologue, the Lakota language has over 6000 speakers spread across North Dakota, South Dakota, North Nebraska, south Minnesota, northeast Montana and a handful in Canada. Unlike some of the world’s languages which are dying out, in some areas Lakota is a vigorous language.
While looking for Lakota language resources, my imagination was captured by an exhibition of Lakota Winter Count calenders at the Smithsonian website. There is a brief excerpt of someone speaking in Lakota to introduce the exhibit, then the voiceover continues in English. There is also a recording of a native Lakota speaker pronuncing names of of various tribal groups. But the most interesting part of the exhibit is the Winter Count calendars themselves.
Winter counts are histories or calendars in which events are recorded by pictures, with one picture for each year. The Lakota call them waniyetu wowapi. Waniyetu is the word for year, which is measured from first snowfall to first snowfall. It is often translated as ‘a winter.’ Wowapi means anything that is marked on a flat surface and can be read or counted, such as a book, a letter, or a drawing.
The above Winter Count is from the Rosebud Indian Reservation area, the calendar from the collection that is closest to Paha Ska’s native Pine Ridge Reservation. [Source: Smithsonian]
Lakota translation (short dictionary)
Lakota language, keyboard, fonts, grammar, Bible translation in Lakhota and Dakhota, translation of texts
Lakota-Useful phrases from Omniglot
Lakota Grammar +
Lakhota letters (alphabet) and sounds
Wikipedia: Lakota language with grammar
Smithsonian winter counts
The following images are also from the Rosebud Winter Count. The detail is of the year named “Captured a Holy Woman and Let Her Go” (1797-1798). Calendars can be compared with each other for the same year. The website is set up to open on the date of a known meteor shower that is used as a reference for the other dates.
The longest winter count is one kept by Wapostangi or Brown Hat, also known as Battiste Good. The Battiste Good winter count “is unusual because it includes a series of entries that cover periods of seventy years and extend back to the time when the Lakota received the White Buffalo Calf Pipe, a sacred object still maintained by the tribe, which Good calculated to have occurred in 900 A.D.”