The University of Oklahoma Writing Center
A new online project, found online at kiowatalk.org, extends Kiowa cultural knowledge into digital space.
For many years, Kiowa elder Dorothy Whitehorse DeLaune has worked with tribal members and Native Studies scholars to sustain the Kiowa language, culture, and history. People call her every week with questions about how to say something in the Kiowa language or the genealogy of their family names. She spends her time reading and remembering everything she can so that she can share it with younger generations.
“We’ve got to hurry up, before it’s too late,” she says. “There’s a lot of work to be done and not many of us left to do it.”
It has been Dorothy’s dream to create a public online space to house the Kiowa cultural knowledge kept by this generation of elders. “We’re really the last ones raised by fluent speakers who still had a strong connection to traditional culture. We learned directly from them.”
Thanks to an Oklahoma Humanities Council grant and the support of the Oklahoma Regional Writing Project, a non-profit organization sponsored by the University of Oklahoma Writing Center, Dorothy’s dream has come to pass.
The project is affiliated with the Kiowa Clemente Course. The University of Sciences and Arts (USAO) developed the course twenty-one years ago in collaboration with Kiowa elders and the approval of the tribal chairman at the time. The website is a continuation of the original vision of the course goals. Project team members include Sonny Klinekole of Anadarko, who helps with video production, and Paulette Henderson of Anadarko, who helps with website production.
The website, which can be found at kiowatalk.org, currently offers over 250 videos of Ms. DeLaune sharing words, phrases, and sentences in the Kiowa language. Project Developer and Lead Scholar Dr. Rachel C. Jackson (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma) explains, “In each video, the Kiowa is spelled out on the screen using the spelling system developed by the late Alecia Keahbone Gonzales for beginning Kiowa learners. The sentences are also translated into English and color coded so that viewers can understand how the words match up.”
The website also contains videos of Ms. DeLaune telling stories and singing songs. Her father, “Charley” Whitehorse, saved many of these songs by memory during the 1920’s. The federal government suppressed Native American ceremonial songs and dances during this time. Ceremonial leaders and traditionalists were punished if they were caught in violation.
“They never stopped dancing, though,” explains Dorothy. “They danced in secret during the night. They resisted despite the threat of punishment because keeping the culture alive was more important to them.”
The kiowatalk.org website utilizes digital technology to offer a new way to sustain Kiowa culture, reach broader audiences of Kiowa tribal members, and anyone else who is interested in learning.
“Everyday I think of more things to add, more words, songs, and stories to record,” says Ms. DeLaune. “We’ll keep at it as long as we can, and we want others to get involved.”
“We hope to continue adding content to the website and recruiting more elders to participate. The more voices, words, phrases, stories, and songs we have to share, the better,” explains Jackson.