Kawitaya Daḳota uƞkiapi kte

Vanessa Goodthunder on horse.

As a child in the Lower Sioux Community, Vanessa Goodthunder learned bits of the Dakota language by listening to the community elders speaking.

Today, only 5 elders remain who grew up fluent in Dakota. And Vanessa Goodthunder is one of roughly 30 members of the community who learned the language as an adult.

That’s why she and Ryan Dixon, a leading Dakota language teacher, have worked with youth from the Lower Sioux Community to develop a new phone app.

“We’re going to revitalize the Dakota language,” Goodthunder says.

“The biggest inspiration to this app was from our youth. Today in Native country, youth are almost 50 percent of our population—the future of our communities. Why wouldn’t we invite them to the decision making table?”

The phone app teaches Dakota language through games like Jeopardy and Heads Up. You can play alone, with someone else, or as a group. You see a picture, hear the word in Dakota, and guess the English word.

“The app is not meant to stump you or make you feel intimidated,” Goodthunder says. “It will give you an option to listen to the word you are guessing. It was created to help you learn.”

Goodthunder earned her B.A. from the University of Minnesota in 2016 and is now working on her master’s in education at the U, focusing on the Dakota language and teaching. Ultimately, she hopes to teach the language and high school social studies in the Twin Cities or in the Lower Sioux Community.

She cares about keeping Dakota alive because it embodies her tribe’s identity.

“The language is who I am, and without it I am not whole. When I speak my language, I am speaking from my heart and I am speaking as myself,” she says.

“Kawitaya Daḳota uƞkiapi kte—We will speak the language together.”

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities