RAPID CITY, S.D. – The Lakota language, while not in danger of extinction, has changed over the years since the reservations were created.
A dedicated Lakota man, Jim Emery, was concerned about losing the old stories, songs and language to a more modern version. He set out to record as many of the stories and songs as possible.
His family, members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, transferred his original recordings to compact discs and donated the collection to Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation for preservation and research.
OLC students and others will have access to the CDs that contain valuable information of history, ancient songs and language as spoken pre-reservation.
Emery, born in 1904, spent 25 years recording some of the most famous Lakotas in history as well as other elders, singers and storytellers.
The CDs contain stories and conversations with such notables as Black Elk, Dewey Beard, Paul Apple, Ellis Chips, Charlie Red Cloud, Jessie and Wallace Little Finger and Frank Fools Crow, according to a release.
Some of the singing groups include Red Scaffold, Cherry Creek, Sons of the Oglalas, and Matt and Nellie Two Bulls, who were noted for their singing of the old songs well into their late years.
”These are some of the greatest Lakota orators and singers; they were repositories for the Lakota people who wanted to keep alive the old ways and the songs. I am extremely honored to accept these audio tapes on behalf of Oglala Lakota College so that we may do our part to keep alive the words and songs of those who passed on before us,” OLC President Tom Shortbull said in a release.
Many of the songs Emery recorded are not sung today.
”We don’t do enough of historical preservation. Very few people write about our history, very few people are recording the history; this [is] a good historical effort on the part of Mr. Emery,” Shortbull said.
Jim Emery, the elder Emery’s son, said he spent many hours listening to his father and some of his father’s friends. He learned a lot, but didn’t always understand the language.
The CDs, the younger Emery said, were a long time coming. The family spent many months going through the tapes.
”It took a lot longer than I thought it would. When you went to my dad’s home, he was always working after hours,” he said.
Emery said the elder Jim Emery recorded with small reels then went to larger reels and transcribed them onto 33-1/3 RPM records and sent those by request all over the country.
”I think it’s important to recognize that what grandpa did … the very identity of the Lakota people revolves around the language, the music the culture and the oral history,” said Dave Emery, Emery’s grandson.
”He dedicated 30 or 40 years of his life preserving that,” Dave Emery said. ”It’s a wonderful opportunity now to see that it will get used in a more hands-on fashion.”
When the elder Jim Emery retired from a local power company in Rapid City, he began teaching the language and the culture and when he died he was teaching at the University of South Dakota.
”This is historical preservation; it fills a gap that is missing in the historical records because when they were doing those things in the 1900s, they were talking to the people who were immediately off the reservation.
”What many people noticed was a clipping of the language and was being shortened. When my grandfather moved away from the reservation at a young age, he spoke the old Lakota way; when he came back to the reservation, he noticed the language was changing,” said Randy Emery, grandson of Jim Emery.
The recordings are being stored in OLC’s archival department.