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Dhegiha language instructors implore tribal members to take classes

The annual conference addressed teaching methods, online dictionaries, a unified orthography, and implementing more culture into classes

One message stood out above all others at the 11th Annual Dhegiha Conference, protect our Indigenous languages.

The conference, which took place July 27-28 at the Quapaw Nation’s Downstream Casino Resort in Quapaw, Okla., had its biggest turnout yet with more than 300 attendees, a far cry from its origins in 2011 with 44 attendees. The Dhegiha tribes consist of the Osage, Omaha, Quapaw, Kaw, Ponca and Northern Ponca nations. They are part of a Siouan language group whose languages are similar with a shared history and culture.

Quapaw Nation Chairman Joseph Tali Byrd, an attorney who is also Osage, addresses the attendees of the 11th Annual Dhegiha Language Conference during the opening ceremony, held at the Downstream Casino Resort in Quapaw, Okla., on July 27, 2022. SHANNON SHAW DUTY/Osage News

Quapaw Nation Chairman Joseph Tali Byrd, an attorney who is also Osage, addressed the attendees during the opening ceremony. He said the hostility of state officials in Oklahoma against tribal sovereignty and the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Oklahoma v. Victor Castro-Huerta gave states concurrent jurisdiction to arrest and prosecute non-Natives who commit crimes on tribal lands, making the protection of Indigenous languages and culture a priority. He said with so many forces attacking Indigenous sovereignty from all sides, tribes need to “fight to keep hold of our culture the best way that we can.”

“It’s a powerful thing to be in this room, full of Indians, full of powerful people,” Byrd said. “To honor our ancestors, to honor their legacy with our languages. It’s a powerful thing.”

He also spoke about unity and helping one another. For example, he said the Osage Nation Language Department recently provided information to the Quapaw Nation that helped his tribe win a competitive language grant. “That wouldn’t have been possible without the Wahzhazhe exchange,” he said.

Sixteen-year-old Pawhuska High School student Emma McKibben, Quapaw, gives a presentation on the benefits of a unified orthography for all Dhegiha-speaking tribes at the 11th Annual Dhegiha Language Conference held at the Downstream Casino Resort in Quapaw, Okla., on July 27, 2022. SHANNON SHAW DUTY/Osage News

Presentations kicked off with 16-year-old Pawhuska High School student Emma McKibben, Quapaw, who has taken Osage I and Osage II at PHS from Osage Language Instructor Dana Daylight. McKibben, who was recently crowned Quapaw Nation Princess also won the grand prize at this year’s Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair poster contest.

She said it was easier for her to learn the Osage language because the Osage have their own orthography. When she’s learning the Quapaw language, which uses the phonetic spelling of a word and there are multiple variations of how to spell one word according to the way each person hears it. She has studied both the Quapaw and Osage languages and advocates for one orthography for all Dhegihan people.

“When each tribe’s language is on the same page, it can be better understood by Dhegiha speakers,” she said. “Then we can help each language grow and expand.”

Dr. Mogri Lookout, Osage language master teacher, spoke about the need to integrate more culture into learning the language, versus translating English to Osage. He gave examples of how his ancestors spoke the language and how it was passed down from generation to generation.

Desireé “Storm” Brave, director of the Kaw Nation Language program and Master Teacher, happily holding the first cabbage grown in the language program’s Immersion Garden by her Immersion students on July 13, 2022. Courtesy Photo/Kaw Language Facebook page

Kaw presenter, Desireé “Storm” Brave, who is also Osage, Citizen Potawatomie and Cherokee, wowed attendees with videos of her young language students and online classes. Brave began teaching the Kaáⁿze Íe (Kaw Language) in 2016 after she graduated high school and before she “had a budget or a grant.” She started classes by teaching her nieces and nephews and by the time she was 21, she was named a Master Teacher and Director of the Kaw Nation Language program.

“The children teach me more than they will ever know,” she said.

Over time, she has come to realize that the language program is more than a classroom, it is a safe space for Kaw youth. She, and one other teacher Susy Smith, have about 100 students and teach classes in Kaw City, Newkirk, on Zoom and in the Kaw childcare facilities. They have an Immersion Class in its sixth year and have 10 students who attend faithfully. They also have an Elders Program where they deliver monthly language booklets and activities for elders through Title VI.

Additional presentations were made by Ponca elder Louis Headman; Sky Campbell on the development of the Online Osage Dictionary; Celena White on the administrative functions of the Osage Nation Language Department; Eagle Rhodd on the Ponca language; Mike Pahsetopah on “Indian Sign Language” and Talee Redcorn on the Osage language.

Osage Language teachers, past and present, attended the 11th Annual Dhegiha Language Conference on July 27-28, 2022. They are, from left: Dr. Mogri Lookout (seated), Vann Bighorse, David Nagle, Dana Daylight, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, Tracey Moore, Chris Cote, Janis Carpenter, Donna Barrone, Billy Proctor, Celena White, Braxton Redeagle, OJ Littlecook, and Sky Campbell. SHANNON SHAW DUTY/Osage News

The mission statement of the Dhegiha Preservation Society is “the Osage, Omaha, Quapaw, Kaw, Ponca and Northern Ponca peoples are bound to one another through a shared history, ancient social, political and cultural relationships and a common language, the latter of which is in jeopardy of extinction. Cognizant of the critical importance of the Dhegiha Language to the cultural and social well-being of each respective tribe, the undersigned do hereby come together to establish the Dhegiha Preservation Society for the purpose of protecting, preserving and perpetuating the Dhegiha Language through training, education, publication, program development, curriculum development, outreach and social and cultural exchange activities.”  

To donate to the Dhegiha Preservation Society’s efforts, contact chairman Bill Lynn at (918) 331-7055 or email him at


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Shannon Shaw Duty
Shannon Shaw Duty

Title: Editor


Twitter: @dutyshaw

Topic Expertise: Columnist, Culture, Community

Languages spoken: English, Osage (intermediate), Spanish (beginner)

Shannon Shaw Duty, Osage from the Grayhorse District, is the editor of the award-winning Osage News, the official independent media of the Osage Nation. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a master’s degree in Legal Studies with an emphasis in Indigenous Peoples Law. She currently sits on the Freedom of Information Committee for the Society of Professional Journalists. She has served as a board member for LION Publishers, as Vice President for the Pawhuska Public Schools Board of Education, on the Board of Directors for the Native American Journalists Association (now Indigenous Journalists Association) and served as a board member and Chairwoman for the Pawhuska Johnson O’Malley Parent Committee. She is a Chips Quinn Scholar, a former instructor for the Freedom Forum’s Native American Journalism Career Conference and the Freedom Forum’s American Indian Journalism Institute. She is a former reporter for The Santa Fe New Mexican. She is a 2012 recipient of the Native American 40 Under 40 from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. In 2014 she helped lead the Osage News to receive NAJA's Elias Boudinot Free Press Award. The Osage News won Best Newspaper from the SPJ-Oklahoma Chapter in their division 2018-2022. Her award-winning work has been published in Indian Country Today, The Washington Post, the Center for Public Integrity, NPR, the Associated Press, Tulsa World and others. She currently resides in Pawhuska, Okla., with her husband and together they share six children, two dogs and two cats.

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