South Dakota recognizes official indigenous language

Lisa Kaczke
Argus Leader
Children watch Thomas Billie, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, dance in the Native Americans' Day parade Monday, Oct. 8, in downtown Sioux Falls. The theme this year was "Honoring Our Elders."

South Dakota has become the first state in the continguous United States to recognize an official indigenous language. 

Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill into law, to go into effect July 1, that recognizes the language of the O'ceti Sakowin, which is comprised of the dialects of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota, as the official indigenous language of South Dakota. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and in a 59-6 vote in the House.

South Dakota now joins Hawaii and Alaska as states with official indigenous languages. English would remain the common language used on official public documents and records.

More:Indigenous language bill receives strong support in Senate: 'It's been a long time coming'

Tribal members testified, some in their indigenous language, that the state's recognition would strengthen their culture and heritage. Nakima Mills, an Oglala Sioux tribal councilwoman, told the Senate State Affairs Committee in February that her great-grandparents were punished if they spoke their language. As a result, her grandparents and parents didn't learn the language, and she knows very little of it. Her son is now learning their language in Red Cloud Indian School's Lakota immersion program. 

"It took over 100 years, four generations, for my son to be able to have the Lakota language be a part of his life," she told the committee. 

More:Mission lawmaker wants South Dakota to formally recognize indigenous languages

Bill sponsor Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, said during session that it was one of the most important bills he has introduced as a legislator. He pointed out multiple times during this year's session that the tribal members were speaking a language that wasn't allowed not that long ago. 

"We have a chance to right some wrongs," Heinert told the Senate State Affairs Committee.