RAPID CITY, S.D. - To save a language means to save a culture, words that have previously been spoken and continue to remain true, said Dr. Wayne Evans.
"The time to act is now," he said. This message was woven into his speech to hundreds of South Dakota educators.
Evans, who prefers to be called Wayne, was speaking of the Lakota language in particular, as he addressed a gathering of educators from schools that belong to the South Dakota Association of Bilingual Bicultural Education.
"Hello, I'm Wayne and I'm a recovering lecturer," he told the educators.
Evans educates potential teachers about the Lakota culture and language at the University of South Dakota, where he has taught for 38 years.
"I was raised by my grandparents and taught the Lakota way. Then I went into the mainstream, worked for rancher and thought, how come children were losing the language.
"It's time to act. Have compassion for our language and for our culture.
"Why is our language written in Latin, in English. We are not Latin or English. Why not write it in Lakota, how it's pronounced to make correct sounds."
Evans demonstrated with the spelling of a Lakota word and used the Lakota pronunciation for certain letters, to the delight of the crowd.
While working for a rancher at an early age he had no one to speak Lakota with, so he thought in Lakota. He said it felt like nobody loved him. While at the University of South Dakota as a student he found one person, a janitor at the museum, who could speak Lakota and they spoke in Lakota together often.
"At the age of 21 I would lie in my bed, crying. It's not easy to be Lakota in this country."
Evans knows what discrimination is. "Do I look like an Indian? I have hair on my face and a slick top. In the Indian community they called me Wasicu (Whiteman). I know what it's like to be discriminated against in both the white and Indian communities."
He said his mother-in-law, from his first marriage, was afraid that any children would have brown skin. His wife was non-Indian. And two of his children indeed had darker skin, but two of them were blonde and blue-eyed.
He said he taught a grandchild, who is blonde and blue eyed, the Lakota words for many body parts, nose and ears and the like.
"Now he won't say them because, he said, the words were naughty. I don't know where he heard that."
Evans said that people can speak the Lakota language, and at the same time maintain the ceremonies and walk into the mainstream and "be a hunter and not give up the culture. We can be Lakota and participate in the mainstream."
History education and language education should be taught in the schools, he said. His approach would be to bring American Indian teachers into the non-Indian schools to teach. Give them an incentive, he said, like forgiveness of student loans if they remain for a certain number of years. He calls it "combat pay."
"There are opportunities coming. There is an opportunity under the new governor, Mike Rounds, with Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and state representatives. We may have some opportunities to do something.
As an example Evans said that in schools the history taught is that the Lakota people came over the land bridge some 10,000 years ago. The Lakota origin stories say the people came out of a cave in the Black Hills.
"I want American Indian teachers to stand in front of white children and teach them. I want them to know the Arikara and Lakota tribes have love, and we are not going to scalp them.
"We have a crisis in America. Caucasian children are still raised to be racists.
"Education means assimilation whether we like it our not. To be Indian was bad. We were taught to be ashamed.
"Why must we ask an individual to divest all vestiges of his culture? By omission we were told the language was not good. Teachers are loving people, that's why they are in education. They don't intend to do things like that.
"Bring the Lakota language back into the classroom. Wouldn't it be a shame if Doctor Wayne Evans had to give up his language to be a doctor?"
A state education office would help, he said. Also the equivalent of the 1930s and 40s Civilian Conservation Corps for education would help reservations that do not have financial resources.
"We need people with skills to get this job done - before it's too late."
Evans walked into the Rapid City Schools and asked for equipment to help with the SDABBE conference and was well received. In fact he talked to Superintendent of Education for Rapid City, Dr. Peter Wharton into saying a few words to the conference, which he did.
"We can't do it alone," Evans said.
"Let's do our language, let's do our culture. Let's have emission - let's do it, let's do it now.
"When children are grounded in their language and culture they do better in school; and they do greater in life. It's important to hang on," Evans said.