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After initially asking for payment, CU won't charge Lakota teacher for tribe's language records

“I just kind of sat back and thought, I’m not going to buy back my own language from a university."

DENVER — Ray Taken Alive, a teacher for the Standing Rock Nation in South Dakota, recently reached out to the University of Colorado (CU) looking for language materials related to the Lakota tribe.

As he wrote in a tweet that’s now been shared hundreds of times, the university replied to the request saying they could provide him the materials for a fee.

“I just kind of sat back and thought, I’m not going to buy back my own language from a university. I don’t think that they should have the right to say, ‘You need to give us money to receive your own language,’” he told 9NEWS.

Ray Taken Alive hoped to secure copies of transcripts, recordings with elders and interviews to use as teaching material. Citing colonization, he said languages haven’t been thoroughly preserved and passed down in tribes to later generations. He hopes to use what researchers have to keep that part of his culture alive.

“When these universities, these researchers and linguists went around our reservations, our nations asking for things and recording different things, I don't think our elders [would have] agreed to that if they knew they would be sold back to their grandchildren and their children,” Ray Taken Alive said.

He believed that the original reply may not have been intentionally offensive, and it could likely be a part of standard operating procedure. In an email to 9NEWS, the university confirmed Ray Taken Alive’s thought.

“The teaching materials are currently in physical form and the requester received a standard response regarding fees assessed solely for reproduction and shipping,” a CU spokesperson said. “The department will make the materials available without a fee to members of Indigenous communities and this was not included in the response to the requester. This information will be posted online and shared with requesters in the future to avoid misunderstandings.”

CU also said the linguistics department is in the process of digitizing all similar teaching materials, with the goal of making them free online.

The linguistics department chair, who saw Ray Taken Alive’s plea on Twitter, told him the Lakota materials would be provided to him now at no cost.

Moving forward, Ray Taken Alive hopes this experience prompts an opportunity for reflection and discussion among researchers to change standard procedure.

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