Thunder and bucketing rain broke over Sitting Bull College just as 25 Maori Native language activists from New Zealand pulled up in their tour bus on Wednesday, June 20. Both Lakota and Maori held this as a blessing and an auspicious beginning to the Maori visit to the Lakota Summer Institute – even though it delayed the welcoming ceremony a bit. After about 10 minutes of a pounding downpour, the shower stopped and the clouds parted, the air smelled wonderful and the prairie showed a deeper green.
Three large tipis were set up in an outdoor space the size of a football field behind the College. Stepping out of their bus onto a new land, the Maori began a traditional haka dance and song, showing their fierceness as warriors as they entered unfamiliar ground. The haka dance is a group dance with vigorous movements - foot-stamping and exaggerated facial expressions. The vocals are rhythmic shouts in unison, usually led by a woman soloist.
When they reached the midpoint of the field, they stopped. The Lakota approached the Maori and shook hands, then the entire group formed an enormous circle and a drumbeat began – the circle became a simple dance and song for the whole group.
Then, of course, it was time to eat! A barbecue lunch was occasion for Dr. Laurel Vermillion, the President of Sitting Bull College, to give a welcoming address.
The Maori visit to LSI was long-planned, based on mutual interest of Maori language activists in New Zealand and the growing number of Lakotas who are passionate about learning their language. Maori are an indigenous people in the Australasian islands of the Pacific Ocean, and are now mostly located in New Zealand. They have endured the same assimilation and cultural suppression as other tribes around the world, but have reclaimed their language and culture to such an extent that Maori is one of New Zealand’s three official languages, and there is even a Maori-language television channel in New Zealand.
Maori language activists involved with the Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo (a New Zealand educational organization) decided to travel to Lakota Country to exchange ideas and experiences about language revitalization. Their hope was to present the world of possibilities open to Lakota learners if they just continue on the path and don’t give up on the goal of fluency.
The Maori visitors were aged from 17 to 70 and came from a variety of professional backgrounds. There were doctors, media professionals and newscasters, university students and retirees. All shared that they had achieved fluency while learning Maori as a second language.
Timoti Karetu, the Director of Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo, said in his remarks, “Our Maori group and our Lakota hosts are very similar in that they are all people who are deeply committed to the language and for the most part represent a young generation of people. The only difference is that the Maori have achieved fluency, whereas the Lakota are still on the way. Our hope is that our fluency will help inspire Lakota activists to achieve the same thing.”
That summarizes the spirit of the exchanges, the new friendships and conversations during the short but memorable visit. Lakota and Maori participants were equally impressed with each other’s commitment, and many believed that the trip marked the beginning of a long and deep friendship between two cultures and regions – “Lakota Country” and “Aotearoa”
Timoti Karetu was adopted into the Lakota tribe & given a Lakota naming ceremony. The Maori were presented with gifts of sage, sweetgrass, star quilts, hats, tee shirts, Matȟó Waúŋšila Thiwáhe DVDs, and gift bags. The Lakota displayed magnificent generosity in their gifts, but the Maori definitely out-danced us all! The group performed three fully choreographed hakas – for their arrival, for Karetu’s naming ceremony, and on the evening of the Lakota-language play.
Kevin Locke, a LSI instructor and world-traveled Lakota performer, gave a Hoop dance at the end to see them off – which was a joyful end to an extremely positive experience.
The only regret for both hosts and guests was that the visit lasted only a day and a half! Both sides wished for more casual socializing and getting to know each other. That is definitely something to plan for in the future!
Also more photos are available at the LLC facebook page: