PIERRE (AP) – A state Senate panel endorsed a bill Friday that would recognize the official indigenous language of South Dakota as that of the Oceti Sakowin, or Great Sioux Nation.
The Senate State Affairs Committee voted unanimously to advance the bill to the chamber’s floor after passionate backing from supporters of indigenous language revitalization. The language is made up of three dialects: Dakota, Lakota and Nakota.
Elyssa Sierra Concha, a teacher in the Lakota immersion program at Red Cloud Indian School, said supporters represent generations who have fought to keep their traditions, land, language and identity. She asked lawmakers to pass the bill for the American Indian children in the room.
“I want them to grow up knowing that their state is fully behind them and who they are as indigenous people,” Concha said. “By passing this bill, you will let them know that who they are and the language they speak is not only recognized but celebrated.”
Yankton Sioux Tribe member Faith Spotted Eagle said it would “open some doors for those little ones that are sitting out there all across South Dakota.”
Senate Democratic leader Troy Heinert, the bill’s sponsor, said before the hearing that the measure is one of the biggest bills he’s brought during his time in the Legislature. Heinert, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, has said it’s important that South Dakota recognizes “part of our unique history.”
The bill didn’t face opposition during the committee hearing. If it passes through the Senate, the measure would head to the House.