January 13, 2022
As I sit at my grandmother’s oval-shaped wooden table, I feel a warm summer breeze through the open window. I ask her again how to pronounce iciyapi.
“Ee-chee-yah-pee,” she says in a slightly slower, but confident tone. I repeat the syllables in a much slower and deliberate voice. “Ee...chee...yah..pee.”
“Good my girl, that sounds good,” she says. She is teaching me how to properly introduce myself in our Lakota language, Lakȟótiyapi. I feel a deep sense of comfort knowing she has had this conversation before with dozens of young Lakota learners during her time as a Lakota language teacher in our community of Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.
I recently reflected on this memory as I once again sat at that same wooden table. That time the windows were closed, as the harsh prairie winds of late fall blustered outside. My relatives and I were gathered around the oval table, but my unci, my grandmother, was missing. She had started her journey just a few days before, and we were discussing her funeral arrangements.
For many, grief has a way of forcing us to contemplate and reflect on cherished memories with the loved one who has left us. The loss of my unci, a lifelong educator, my namesake, and one of the most important teachers in my life, and in the lives of many others, has prompted me to think even more deeply about how important it is for Indigenous Knowledge Systems to be not only included, but honored and affirmed in classrooms.