White Hat Completes Lakota Language Text

Sep 15th, 1999 | By | Category: 11-1: 10th Anniversary Issue, Tribal College News

The University of Utah press has published Albert White Hat Sr.’s book, Reading and Writing the Lakota Language. The book represents the work of a lifetime for White Hat, who is an instructor at Sinte Gleska University (SGU) on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Royalties from the book will go to SGU in memory of White Hat’s mother, Emily Hollow Horn Bear White Hat, and brother, Isadore White Hat, one of SGU’s founding fathers. The book is expected to be used in elementary and high schools and universities throughout the area. Schools in Pine Ridge, S.D., have been using copies of the rough draft while waiting for the text to be published.

A heart attack several years ago made White Hat ask himself what legacy he was leaving for future generations, according to an article by Sharon Deets in the Todd County Tribune. “I wanted to leave something for the children and for our people,” he said. For the previous 20 years, White Hat has been teaching from five pages of notes on a yellow pad. Then Jael Kampfe arrived.

A Montana native, Kampfe became acquainted with White Hat’s work through Phil Deloria while she was working on a degree in Religious Studies at Yale. White Hat and Kampfe began the language project in 1992 by taping White Hat’s classes. The transcriptions became the framework for the books, Kampfe said.

Kampfe researched grants, filed reports, and handled administrative background details. “It freed Albert to focus on what was really important. His strength is oral, mine is trying to figure out how to use Western education as a tool for all his wisdom. What makes what Albert has done so remarkable is the synthesis of a traditional approach with the Western approach to language learning,” Kampfe told the Todd County Tribune.

In his foreword for the book, noted author Vine Deloria Jr. writes, “Albert White Hat reverses the traditional method of explaining language by showing through examples, anecdotes, and lessons the world view and values of the Brule Lakota, how people speak and think. (He) has created a grammar that takes the reader inside the community slang and puns so we can enjoy (the) kind of linguistic play that is so characteristic of our people.”

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