When elder Cy Standing was growing up, the entire Wahpeton Dakota Nation community spoke Dakota.
Now, Standing wants to preserve the language for future generations.
The community has about eight people fluently in Dakota.
Standing, along with his daughter Lois, have started a Dakota language program for community members. They meet every weekend for three to four hours each day.
Standing said the Dakota language has developed over time. Now, he can start by teaching people the Dakota alphabet.
He said the Dakota language consists of sounds that don’t exist in English. Some letters also have different sounds than in the English language. Some Dakota ‘Ts,’ for example, sound like ‘Ds’ in English.
The group is not only learning a new language, but also the history of Wahpeton.
"We're very spiritual people. We still do our ceremonies and most of our ceremonies, our prayers are in Dakota, when we do our sweat lodges and that kind of stuff. And our little children, grandchildren are in there,” said Standing.
The gatherings started in March after they received funding from the provincial government. The initiative was put on pause until September because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lois drives from Saskatoon every weekend to attend the meetings with her daughter. Both are still learning Dakota.
"It's important that all ages learn it because then they can help support the younger ones who are just learning,” said Lois.
About 15 people are attending the gatherings on a regular basis, she said. Eventually, she wants to expand the program for members of other communities to learn Dakota.
Lois said it’s important to learn from first-language speakers such as her father.
“Growing up … I didn’t hear any English, except when we had visitors,” said Standing.
He learned English when he began school, but when he started, all he knew how to say was “yes” and “no.”
“It’s a part of our life, we have to speak our language, be proud of our nation and our spirituality,” said Standing.