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How Covid-19 Threatens Native Languages

The husband and wife Jesse (Jay) and Cheryl Taken Alive were buried at a family plot south of Cannon Ball, N.D., overlooking the Missouri River. Ohoto by Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune, via Getty Images

On January 24, 2021, The New York Times published an opinion piece by Jodi Archambault, Hunkpapa and Oglala Lakota, about the harrowing effect that Coronavirus has taken on Native communities. 

The opinion piece focuses on the threat that the pandemic – and its death toll –  poses to the progress that Standing Rock has made toward the revitalization of Lakota and Dakota languages. 

Ms. Archambault writes that “as Covid-19 takes a fearsome toll on our people, it also threatens the progress we have made to save our languages. The average age of our speakers — our treasured elders who have the greatest knowledge and depth of the language — is 70. They are also those who are at most risk of dying from Covid-19.”

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On January 12, 2021, Jack Healy at The New York Times reported on the devastating toll that the Coronavirus has taken on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Indigenous nations in the U.S.

The catastrophic loss of elders at Standing Rock will have a profound impact on our youth, as the pandemic continues to sever the younger generations’ relationship to their own culture – the language, wisdom, and Lakota/Dakota traditions that are typically passed down from the elders.

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