Lakota Language

Preserving and sharing the Lakota culture is a core part of our mission at St. Joseph’s Indian School and traditional Lakota language is a vital part of that effort. Like many other indigenous languages around the world, Lakota is in danger of being permanently lost.

According to the Lakota Language Consortium, Lakota is one of only eight Native American languages with over 5,000 speakers. However, fluent speakers are aging, making it difficult to continue to teach younger generations.

Across South Dakota, schools, pre-schools, daycare centers and other organizations are working to help revitalize and save the Lakota language. Thanks to these efforts, more language resources are available for learning Lakota than ever before.

What’s the Difference between Lakota and Sioux?

Most Native Americans in South Dakota are associated with tribal bands like the Oglala, Sicangu, Mnicoujou and Siha Sapa, which are also part of the Oceti SakowinSeven Council Fires. Together, these groups are commonly referred to as the Sioux. They are also recognized by their band’s dialect — Lakota, Dakota or Nakota.

The map of the upper Midwest shows the territory where the Lakota language was once spoken
The Lakota people, and therefore the Lakota language, covered a large area of the Midwest at one time.

Lakota speakers usually lived west of the Missouri River* in North and South Dakota, as well as northern Nebraska, northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana. Dakota bands were located east of the Missouri River and Nakota speakers lived between these two areas, in what is now southeast South Dakota and northern Iowa.

At St. Joseph’s Indian School

Using curriculum from the Lakota Language Consortium, St. Joseph’s students receive language instruction during their Native American Studies classes twice weekly. Their hard work has earned recognition from the Lakota Language Consortium multiple times!


* Gaffney, Dennis. (2006, April 24). Dakota, Lakota, Nakota: Languages of the Sioux. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/fts/bismarck_200504A08.html