Albert White Hat Sr., or Natan Tokahe, “The First One to Charge,” spent more than 25 years as a Lakota language instructor at Sinte Gleska University in Mission, South Dakota. He walked on June 11 at the age of 74.
“Albert White Hat reverses the traditional method of explaining language by showing through examples, anecdotes, and lessons the world view and values of the Brule Lakota, how people speak and think,” the late Vine Deloria Jr. wrote in the foreword of White Hat’s book Reading and Writing the Lakota Language, published in 1999.
After years of teaching Lakota from his own notes, White Hat decided to write it all down in that book.
White Hat, Sicangu (Rosebud) Lakota, was born on the outskirts of Saint Francis, South Dakota. He spoke only Lakota until the age of 7, when he started schooling. He attended the day school in Spring Creek and then graduated from St. Francis Jesuit Mission School.
“I came out of there totally ashamed of who I am, of what I am,” White Hat says in a video about Indian boarding schools. He also has said: “I got my education from the Jesuits, then I went back to my traditional ways and beliefs.”
After schooling White Hat worked a number of odd jobs before finding his calling as a teacher of Lakota language, culture, thought, oral history and spirituality.
White Hat earned a number of awards during his lifetime including the 2007 Governor’s Award in South Dakota, specifically the Living Indian Treasure Award “for his many contributions to Native American art forms. White Hat, who has been honored by the designation of traditional Chief by the Sicangu (Rosebud) Lakota people… continues to promote education and awareness for his people in the 21st century while maintaining a traditional way of life.”
In 1995, he was named an Outstanding Indian Educator and in 2001 the National Indian Education Association named him Elder of the Year. In 1982, he chaired the Committee for the Preservation of the Lakota Language.
White Hat also provided translations for a number of movies, including Dances With Wolves.
White Hat’s grandfather was Chief Hollow Horn Bear, a Lakota leader and negotiator for Native rights.
Read an interview White Hat did for the book How Can I Find God? here.
Listen to White Hat discuss historical trauma and being Lakota: