Albert White: Hat American Indian who championed the Lakota language

 

The endangered Lakota language has lost one of its greatest supporters. Albert White Hat, who died in South Dakota on 11 June at the age of 74 of prostate cancer, was instrumental in teaching and preserving the American Indian language and translated the Hollywood film Dances with Wolves into Lakota for its actors.

White Hat, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, wrote several books on writing and reading Lakota, a language fluently spoken by fewer than 6,000 people. The average age of those speakers is 60, and less than 14 percent of the Lakota population in South Dakota and North Dakota – where the vast majority of Lakota speakers live – speak their native tongue.

The first native Lakota speaker to publish a Lakota textbook and glossary, White Hat was considered an activist for traditional ways of living, according to his daughter, Emily White Hat. He even created an orthography for the language, which he had taught since 1975, and was head of the Lakota Studies Department at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. His daughter said he believed in sharing the Lakota way of life with both tribal members and non-Native Americans.

He believed "there was always an opportunity to educate," she said. "Even though some questions may be off the wall, he believed it was better to take the opportunity than to be misled about who we are."

One of those opportunities came when White Hat provided the translation for the Lakota dialogue in the 1990 Oscar-winning Kevin Costner film Dances with Wolves.

Wilhelm Meya, executive director of the Lakota Language Consortium, a not-for-profit organisation seeking to revitalise the Lakota language, called White Hat a "warrior" for the language. Meya said he hopes White Hat's legacy lives on, and that more young people will decide to study the language and work to retain its importance. "Over 100 Lakota speakers pass on [each year]," Meya said. "Those speakers are not being replaced by young speakers. Until we can reverse that trend, the language will continue to be very much in danger."

White Hat was born on the outskirts of St. Francis, South Dakota, on the Rosebud reservation. He spoke only Lakota until his teens, when he started learning English in school. His grandfather, Chief Hollow Horn Bear, was a leading chief in many of the Plains Indians Wars against settlers in the 1800s, and was also involved in treaty negotiations with the U.S.

Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Cyril Scott called White Hat a great teacher, spiritual leader and friend. He noted that White Hat was known all over the powwow circuit and was awarded numerous awards in honor of his dedication to preserving the Lakota language and culture. White Hat is survived by his wife, seven children and many grandchildren.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea