Historical tapes given to Oglala Lakota College

Rapid City, South Dakota (AP) 9-07

Students at Oglala Lakota College will be able to hear their ancestors speak through hundreds of tapes donated to the college.

The late Jim Emery spent 25 years recording Lakota songs, powwows and conversations with people such as Black Elk, spiritual leader Frank Fools Crow and Dewey Beard, the last survivor of both the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Wounded Knee Massacre.

Now, Emery’s family has donated about 300 audiotapes – all transferred to CDs – to the college in Kyle.

Emery’s sons, Jim Emery and Chuck Emery, and grandsons, David Emery and Randy Emery, made the presentation recently.

Basically, it’s historic preservation,” Randy Emery said. “These are (our) ancestors talking. ... Nothing’s going to make you want to speak the language like hearing your grandfather speak it.”

“The very identity of the Lakota people revolves around the language, the culture and the Lakota history,” said David Emery.

The late Jim Emery was raised on the Rosebud Reservation by his grandfather, who was white, and his grandmother, Walks Alone, who was at Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee. Relatives said Emery’s grandfather spoke to his grandmother in English and she answered in Lakota. “He grew up without realizing he was bilingual,” said Emery’s son Jim.

After attending Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kan., from 1925 to 1927, Emery and his wife, Edith, returned to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. Randy said his grandfather noticed that the Lakota language had changed in the short time he was gone. Words had been shortened and clipped. Not wanting the old language to vanish, Emery began recording it.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Emery made hundreds of recordings, capturing drum groups, reservation fairs and even Christmas songs on tape.

Emery started out using Edison cylinders, which are wax. Some of the earliest recordings were lost when the cylinders melted. The rest of the recordings were captured on reel-to-reel tape.

“These are some of the greatest Lakota orators and singers,” Oglala Lakota College president Tom Shortbull said. “I am extremely honored to accept these audio tapes on behalf of Oglala Lakota College so that we may do our part to keep alive the words and the songs of those who passed on before us.”

Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com