The meaning of TANKA

June 28, 2009

In Lakota, Tanka means large or great. It changes depending on how it is used when spoken. What Tanka means to me is a little different. When I see people doing good for themselves and their families, that is Tanka.

When I see people saying good words and backing it up with good actions -- when there is no separation in someone's belief and their reality -- that is Tanka.

I was taught that at the last stage of life, our elders leave this world with a lot of questions, a lot of uncertainty. I sometimes wonder, what are the kinds of questions our elders have? Are the lives of the people going to get better or worse? Will our language still live? Did the teachings they left behind take hold in our hearts?

There are many people doing great works for all of our Peoples, and it is my wish to share an example.

Who is TANKA?

I first heard about the language classes that Tusweca Tiospaye (Dragonfly Community) is holding this summer (on Pine Ridge Reservation) by talking a friend of mine who lives off the rez. He brought his family to Pine Ridge for ceremony, and while he was helping out, he needed a place for his children to be while he was busy during the day.

He took them to several different youth camps, but he said they did not reflect the values that he wanted to teach his children. He found Tusweca Tiospaye and saw that it was a perfect fit for what he wanted for his children.

"Tusweca Tiospaye has been created to develop a strong, healthy, and prosperous environment in which Lakota wakanyeja (children) and their tiwahe (families) can learn and incorporate the Lakota language into their daily lives."
-- Excerpt from Tusweca Tiospaye flyer

Our children now have a safe and welcoming place where they can be introduced to their own language so they will always carry it with them. Mike Carlow, Jr., is one of the founders of the organization, and he is a young man who many people on my rez have much respect for.

Pine Ridge is one of the last, great reservoirs for our Lakota language. But like all bodies of water during a drought, it is drying up. The average age of a speaker is nearly 65, and only 14 percent of our people are speaking the language right now.

There may come a time when one of our elders stands up to address the people in Lakota at a gathering, and no one there can understand them. We are so close to losing our language, it's scary. But there is hope.

A great teacher once said, "You cannot have language without the culture; you cannot separate the two."

Lakota language a gift

I was told that in our spiritual way, the Creator can understand all languages, but our Lakota language was a gift to us. Inside of our language, there are teachings and understanding that cannot be translated. They reflect the Lakota perspective of life and our way of being. It is a gift worth fighting for!

Languages that youth do not speak, die. It is within the grasp of this generation to save the language or lose it. Tusweca Tiospaye is one community taking a stand to preserve our way of life, and for that, they have my respect.

They are a new organization with a great mission ahead of them. It is my hope that if I make it to being an elder, I can leave this life behind knowing our language will endure.

The work Mike Carlow, Jr., and the others at Tusweca Tiospaye are doing can touch many lives for the better. To me, that is what being Tanka is.

I ask everyone who reads this to think about the examples they see in their communities. Who are your examples?

What does being Tanka mean to you?

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