Clementine Bordeaux on Ella Deloria


I was born and raised on the Pine Ridge
Reservation. I’m a Lakota woman. [introduces herself in her Lakota language] I just introduced myself in my Lakota language. I’m
Clementine Bordeaux and I’m greeting you with a warm heart. I’m a doctoral student
in the World Arts and Culture program at UCLA. I am talking about Ella Deloria who
was a Dakota ethnographer from the early 1900’s. She became one of the premier
ethnographers on the Dakota people, which was really important to her because she
wanted to be able to create information about her community that was from her
community’s perspective because at the time in anthropology, it was very much
salvage anthropology. So anthropologists were just going out and getting whatever
they could because they thought all of these cultures were dying in the
Americas, but I think Ella Deloria really understood that these stories and these
narratives and this culture of hers and her family needed to be preserved in
particular ways and she also had a very large impact on the reawakening of our
language. Lakota and Dakota is an oral language; we didn’t write things down, we
didn’t have an orthography. When she was developing shorthand to write down the
language. When she was doing interviews, or doing participant observations
in the field, she based it on a larger linguistic structure, but really tried to
cater it to specific sounds in the language. Her work, now that people are
coming back to it – because it was kind of forgotten for a while: A, ’cause she’s a woman and
B, ’cause she was Dakota, but now people are coming back to it and realizing that
she had created this foundational structure of writing the language down.
She’s published two manuscripts: “Waterlily” which is a fiction about a young
Dakota woman transitioning through life from the prairies to the reservation, at
the time, and her other manuscript is called “Speaking of Indians” which is
Dakota ethnography. She attempted to try to help people understand that Native
people weren’t savages that they had a complex history, they had a complex
culture, that there was intellect embedded into everything that was Dakota community. My mom gives the “Waterlily” book to every eighth-grade
young woman she knows that graduates from junior high. I know there’s a new
cover now of “Watelily,” but this is the one I got from my mom in eighth grade
and it’s a book that I come back and reread and it really has a lot of this
foundational information about what it means to be a woman in our culture and
also, ultimately, I think what Ella Deloria writes about is being a good
relative. This is from her “Speaking of Indians” chapter called “Kinship: Roles in
Dakota Life” and she says: “To be a good Dakota, then, was to be humanized,
civilized, and to be civilized was to keep the rules imposed by kinship for
achieving civility, good manners and a sense of responsibility towards every
individual dealt with.” For me, what really stands out is that keeping the
rules imposed by kinship and a sense of responsibility because that is not only
to other people, but to yourself. So what is the responsibility of making sure
you’re being a good relative to yourself and keeping yourself healthy so that
you’re not, you know, implementing that trauma on other people that you might
have experienced. And I carry that with me. I mean I think that really draws me
to the work I do in Los Angeles in trying to be a good relative to the
tongue of a people, trying to be a good relative in all that I do, and so
whatever I produce is not only for me, but for the people that are coming after
me and that, hopefully, in 50 years there’ll be a Lakota scholar who is
looking at work that I’ve done and feels the same that I feel towards Ella
Deloria.

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