Understanding Lakotiyapi


The Lakota language is critical in fully practicing Lakota traditions and understanding the religion.  This goes for the Lakota individuals who practice the religion as well as scholars who study the culture.  Understanding the language is integral to grasping the essence of what the Lakota people hold sacred.  

Language influences thought, so there must be a deep understanding of Lakotiyapi in order to comprehend Lakota culture and religion.

Pow Wow competition on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (Wazí Aháŋhaŋ Oyáŋke in Lakota).

A prayer in every step

Emphasis On Action: 

The Lakota language differs from English in many ways, but one striking difference is the way it puts an emphasis action.  Grammatically, this is done by putting verbs at the end of a sentence.

English: Hazel throws the ball.

Lakota: Hazel, the ball, she throws it.

Ending a sentence with what is being done draws more attention to the action rather than the object undergoing the action.  Using Lakotiyapi affects the way the language speakers perceive action, highlighting one ways the language influences thought and understanding. 1

Kinship Terms:

Through the use of kinship terms, the Lakotiyapi acknowledges, celebrates, and shows gratitude for the interrelation and interdependence of all creation.

The Lakota people see the Earth as their Mother, the Sun as their Father, and the Moon as their Grandmother.

        Mother Earth – Maka Ina 

        Sun – Wi

        Moon – Hanwi

These words highlight the Lakota culture and beliefs about interrelation with everything. Additionally, the Lakota language has the ability to be spoken in a sacred way.  When referring to the Earth in every day speech Maka Ina is used, but when speaking about it in a ceremonial context it becomes Unci Maka. 2


Mitakuye Oyasin – All my relation

Mitakuye Oyasin is a call or invitation to all creation and relatives to hear what has just been said.  It is used at the end of important prayers and speeches.  Some Lakota elders believe it should not be said as often as it is and that it should be reserved for extremely important occasions as it calls everything and everyone to listen.

It speaks to the idea of interrelation and interconnection with everything and the Lakota people’s ability to communicate all creation.  The Lakota language serves as a powerful conduit through which these ideas can travel and affirms the urgency for revitalizing Lakotiyapi so the culture and religion can thrive.3


Painting by Keith Braveheart

  1. Chretien, Tom, interview by Elliot H. Conlow, April 9, 2024.
  2. Chretien, Tom, interview by Elliot H. Conlow, April 9, 2024.
  3. Chretien, Tom, interview by Elliot H. Conlow, April 9, 2024.