Until her death last year, 97-year-old Genevieve LaBatte of Granite Falls was the oldest person in Minnesota to speak Dakota as a first language.
Today, there are just eight first-language Dakota speakers left in the state.
Before LaBatte died, she shared her first language, stories from her life and her thoughts for the future with the Dakota Wicohan Oral History Project. The project received a $50,000 ACHF grant from the Minnesota Historical Society.
“We can learn language from books, but when we have a speaker who grew up in the language, it means much more,” said Teresa Peterson, LaBatte’s granddaughter and the project’s director.
Not only is the language being preserved, but also the Dakota history and culture transmitted through the language. In July 2011, KARE-TV featured the project as part of its "Land of 10,000 Stories" series.
Peterson is grateful to have oral histories from her grandmother and several other first language Dakota speakers to share with future generations. As those elders age, the window of opportunity closes.
“It’s really precious,” Peterson said.
This site is updated regularly with descriptions and data related to Legacy projects funded through the Minnesota Historical Society by the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (ACHF).
Further information about the use and impact of all Legacy Funds can be found on the Minnesota Legislative Coordinating Commission's Minnesota's Legacy site.