Jan 7, 2015 - Lakota Local School District Guilty of Name Theft By Tracy Hauff
Why would a school board in a state with only .03% of its population American Indian, name a school district Lakota Local School District? On New Year’s Day, I heard Rose Parade host Hoda Kotb announce a marching band from Lakota West High School. As she narrated the band’s musical attributes, I became fully attentive, watching the camera zoom in for a close-up, curious to find out what reservation this school band hailed from. The children I saw were not Lakota and the band was from West Chester, a township in Ohio with a school district named Lakota Local School District.
The district has undergone many name changes in the past one hundred years. First consolidated in 1915, it was named the Union Township Schools. In 1928, additional schools were added and it became Liberty Township School District. In 1957, the Liberty and Union districts consolidated and the district became known as Liberty-Union School District. It wasn’t until 1970 that the district was named Lakota Local School District. The Race/Ethnicity demographics for Lakota West High School are as follows: White 74.7%, African American 11.6%, Asian 5.7%, two or more races 4.3%, Hispanic 3.4%, American Indian 0.1%, Pacific Islander 0.1%. The 0.1% American Indian student enrollment accounts for two children who attend the school. The State of Ohio demographics are: White 83.2%, African American 12.5%, Asian 1.9%, Hispanic 3.4%, American Indian .03%.
The previous names given to the district were logical, but why the name change to Lakota in 1970? The answer is on their website – “The word ‘Lakota’ is an Indian name meaning coming together, unity, or togetherness. The consolidations have brought together the many small neighborhoods and molded them into a strong, cohesive community.”
I have never heard Lakota defined in this way. It has been translated to mean friend or ally, but even this is not entirely correct. Lakota is a dialectical group of people, and it was the dialectical differences of the Siouan bands that eventually separated the Great Sioux Nation into three entities known as the Dakota (Santee), Nakota (Yanktoni), and Lakota (Teton).
Many Lakota do not like to be referred to as Native American or American Indian, and rightly so, as this misnomer identifies the Lakota as being American, belonging to the continent Amerrique – the name coined by early explorers for the new world. Encarta Dictionary defines an American as “somebody of the United States, its people, its culture, or the form of English spoken there.” This is definitely not an accurate definition for the Lakota who occupied this continent long before European explorers set foot on it. If we are defined by the term Native American or American Indian, we would date back only 500 years to the “discovery” of the land which we already inhabited. It is our longevity on this continent, despite repeated attempts at genocide, which unite the Lakota people. We have had much taken from us since the introduction of colonialism, but we know we own Lakota ta Makoce – the Lakota land.
Lakota practice tradition in order to preserve their culture and identity. The Seven Lakota Virtues given to us by White Buffalo Calf Woman – Prayer, Respect, Compassion, Honesty, Generosity, Humility, and Wisdom – are taught to our children at a young age. The recent growth of Lakota Immersion programs for preschool children and Lakota Language Studies for upper grade students came about because dedicated administrators, educators, parents, and elders worked together in order to reestablish the Lakota language on the reservations. The U.S. Government’s policy of assimilation, and subsequent ban on speaking Lakota, tore the heart out of the earlier generations. The sharing of ceremonies, stories, and prayers was greatly impacted during these years of silence. Fortunately, the number of schools teaching Lakota is steadily increasing in the hope of not only bringing back the language, but also strengthening the culture.
It is the dialect, the land, and the tenacious will of the people to survive that define Lakota. Using the name Lakota for a school district which has no ties to the Oceti Sakowin, where natives rank the lowest in race/ethnicity demographics, and where the citizens do not even understand the meaning of Lakota, is not only inappropriate, it is on the same level of disrespect and dishonor as mascot and sports team naming.
Lakota Local School District, it’s time for another name change. White Majority School District might be a good one.
Tracy Hauff is a member of the Lakota Oyate, Oglala Band, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.