Q+A: Wahpeton Dakota Nation filmmaker records few remaining language speakers

·3 min read

A Wahpeton Dakota Nation filmmaker is capturing her community's push to protect its language.

As one of the participants in the National Screen Institute's IndigiDocs program, Lois Standing aims to translate her work revitalizing the Dakota language into film.

Standing, who helped found the Northern Dakota Language Group with her father, is one of eight program participants. She'll get online training in writing, producing and directing to develop a market-ready movie proposal. A jury will then choose up to four of the participants to head into production, each receiving an award of about $16,000 and roughly $10,000 worth of in-kind services.

In an interview with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Standing spoke about her efforts recording first-language speakers on film. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How did it feel to learn you were one of this year's filmmakers?

A: When I heard I got chosen, I was really inspired. I knew it was going to be good training. It was going to get me closer to the goal, which is to record the stories and some of the information that the first-language speakers had been sharing in our group for the past year. It was really important for me.

Q: Why is your language work suited to a documentary?

A: It's more of a historical record. There's not very many first-language speakers. From the Wahpeton Dakota Nation, there's only about eight fluent speakers left. We were looking for ways we could retain that information for future generations.

So I thought IndigiDocs was a great opportunity to get support and help with the story and create a documentary. That will always be our historical record, even if the language speakers are no longer here.

Q: Why is a film a good historical record for Dakota language speakers?

A: Because it's a critically endangered language, I felt it's important to hear the language being spoken directly from speakers and have them tell the story of the community, and to have the history told from their perspective. Dakota was all they heard when they were children. As opposed to now, it's all pretty much English. They stressed the importance that we retain our language for the future. And also (to ensure) the lessons, the stories and the values that are within the language all continue.

The film would help to create that record for them to share that important message. It just felt like another form of artistry to tell a story from our perspective.

Q: When it's finished, what do you hope viewers learn from the film?

A: I hope it helps to inspire others to see the importance of first-language speakers and the first language of our lands here in Saskatchewan. There's so many important lessons for us to learn from the speakers and from the language.

Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix