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Official Indigenous Language Bill Passes Senate Committee

Jenifer Jones


A state senate committee is advancing a bill that codifies the official indigenous language of South Dakota.

It’s the first step in the legislative process to codify the official indeginous language of the state as the language of the O’ceti Sakowin, or the Seven Council Fires, which is comprised of three dialects: Dakota, Lakota and Nakota.

Faith Spotted Eagle is Ihanktonwan Dakota and Nakota from the Yankton Reservation. She says she testified in favor of the bill to show support for her grandchildren.

“Finally, the white people of this land called ‘Dakota’ the plurality of—all over the world people speak many different languages. Finally, they’ve accepted this language of whose land that we live on. Finally, they understand. That makes me happy.”

Testimony on Senate Bill 126 was at times emotional. Supporting testimony went for over an hour, and featured fluent Dakota, Lakota and Nakota speakers—from elders to children. The bill’s prime sponsor, Democratic State Senator Troy Heinert, says to hear testimony in native language was important.

“For years, speaking your native language was frowned upon in South Dakota,” Heinert says. “I got a text from one of the senators that was on the committee and he said, “You can feel the pain of not being acknowledged for who you are. This bill will help ease that pain.” And that—that’s pretty emotional right there.”

If passed and signed by the governor, Heinert says South Dakota becomes the first state in the continental US to codify indigenous language. The bill passes unanimously out of the Senate State Affairs committee and heads to the Senate floor.