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June 24, 2011

>”Pidamaya” is Dakota for “Thank you.”

Unlike English, which dictates the recipient balance the scales with, “You’re welcome,” there’s a lovely modesty to the simple Dakota acknowledgment (by women), “Han.” (Nasalize the “a” and don’t pronounce the “n”.)

That single syllable says, “Of course. It goes without saying that this is the way it is done.”

Ella Deloria told me first in her lovely novel Waterlily. Then again in her posthumously-published The Dakota Way of Life. And I experience it when I spend time with Dakota people.

Like at MHS on Monday in a five hour meeting with a majority-Dakota web development group. And Tuesday, Wednesday, and today at Dakota Language Camp. Twenty hours of time out of my own culture feels like a few weeks’ vacation.

I find myself saying,”Pidamaya, God.”

But enough musing. It probably means nothing if you weren’t there.

So let me show you some of the fun we had –despite the fact that we had to move our 100% outdoor camp from the lovely wooded river bluffs and prairie of the Pond Dakota Mission site to inside Bloomington City Hall all three days.

Mercy and Hope’s favorite Potato Dance lost a little photo value performed on faux-wood linoleum –but not the fun. And every day, in between showers we got outside to do fun things like figure out how people used a travois.

Each team of children was given a bag of belongings, a piece of canvas, a rope, and a travois. They had to figure out how to bundle the belongings and bind the bundle to the travois in a way that they did not fall off or drag on the ground.

 Then they ran a relay circuit pulling the travois to see if their ideas worked.

Dakota Camp has a completely different feel than Korea Camp because the cultures are so different. While Dakota people find the highest value in the old ways, Korea is bent on keeping up with modernity. You’ll see i-Phones  in the hands of teachers in both camps. But one is accessing a 19th century dictionary while the other is playing a K-pop music video. Koreans value their traditional ways and curate them with beauty and precision. But knowledge of traditional ways does not define modern Koreans the way it defines modern Dakota people.
As horrible as the Japanese occupation of Korea was, thousands of first-language Korean speakers survived the occupation and quietly taught the language to their children even while the occupation government forced them to use Japanese in schools and in public. In Korea, the language was suppressed, but not lost.
In the Dakota homeland, the language was all but eradicated in a 100-year period during which the U.S. government bent its considerable power over food, housing, medical care, employment, and education to stamping out Dakota culture. Today, while thousands of first-language English speakers are learning Dakota, effectively reclaiming and reestablishing the language, the number of first-language speakers of Dakota in the United States and Canada can probably be counted on two hands. And within a decade or two, all of them will be gone.
And so my Korea-born daughters, and their China-born friend, a several dozen wasicus (Euro-Americans) and a couple dozen people of Dakota descent got together for three days and spoke to each other in the Dakota language. I understand  a little more than I speak and it brought tears to my eyes to listen: every time Dakota people pray they say “Pidamaya” for the language.
Can you imagine if tomorrow the Federal government decided Kurdish was the state language –then spent the next 100 years eradicating English and every cultural practice tied to the language? A century from now when public opinion changed, the government relented and declared English would be tolerated, might not our great-grandchildren close their eyes, raise their hands to God, and say, “Thank you” ?
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