Dakota Language Project

Iapi Oaye

Unlocking a Hidden History of Dakota Language and Culture
within The Word Carrier

Our tiospaye

Rev. Clifford Canku
Sisoka Duta
Raine Cloud
Tipiziwin Tolman
Chris Pexa
Kiara Vigil

Iapi Oaye, a Dakota-language missionary newspaper, was published monthly, first in Greenwood, Dakota Territory, and later in Santee, Nebraska, between May 1871 and March 1939. An English-language paper, the Word Carrier, was also published monthly by the Dakota mission in Santee, Nebraska between March 1884 and August 1903, when it was renamed the Word Carrier of Santee Normal Training School. Curiously, what appears to be a “special edition” of the first paper was published as Iapi Oaye Napeyuza beginning on September 25, 1884. This sample of work for the NEH Scholarly Editions and Translations Grant provides some initial translations from the first page of this special issue. We begin here because there has been scant archival research and scholarship on the contents of Napeyuza and because these are incredibly rare documents. What this sample also provides is an example of the different orthographies used to record the Dakota language. By digitizing the original nineteenth century documents this site preserves an important historical moment when Dakota was recorded using an orthography that differs from the Standard Dakota Orthography that contemporary teachers and language learners use today. As this project continues it will compare these different orthographies to offer new linguistic analysis regarding Dakota language as it has been spoken and written across time. 


Let’s begin with the paper’s title and sub-heading, and how we might situate our analysis of this document within the complicated historical context out of which it was initially printed and circulated. Iapi Oaye Napeyuza can be translated as language (or even literally as speaking) carrier shaking your hand. Unlike both "Iapi Oaye" and "The Word Carrier," which both cost fifty cents, the sub-heading notes that this publication is “ituya” which means free, without cost, even gratuitous. An image situated between “Iapi Oaye” and “Napeyuza” shows two hands shaking with the words “The Constitution” (in English) on a document behind them, with stars in the background. Further study is needed to completely unpack the symbolism of this stamped image, but as a potential logo for this special edition it seems to suggest overt links to American nation-building efforts and patriotic sentiment. Perhaps this paper is an attempt to further solidify the idea that Dakota people consider themselves as citizens of the United States rather than members of the Oyate, the Dakota nation? As such, they would be more likely to not only learn English and adopt aspects of American culture, but might embrace policies like allotment, which sought to break-up the collectively held lands of the Dakota and Lakota people and section them off into smaller family-owned parcels.

Historical moment

Although allotment did not become an official policy of the federal government until Congress voted to approve the General Allotment Act (also known as the Dawes Act) of 1887, it was practiced on a limited basis since the early decades of the nineteenth century. Prior to the Dawes Act, allotment was the practice of issuing a quarter section of land to each eligible individual on a reservation, so that they might adopt an agricultural way of living, an education in English language and culture, and eventually give up their Indigenous way of life. Some Dakota people, like the Sisseton and Wahpeton, signed Treaties guided by this thinking, such as the Treaty of 1867, which established a reservation for them in the eastern Dakota Territory. Throughout the Dakota Territory there were similar efforts by government officials to encourage the adoption of treaties and incentivize Native individuals, mainly men, to take up agricultural farming and the concept of allotment. Throughout the 1880s and into the early twentieth century, allotment led to individual and fractional ownership by Native "heads of household" while simultaneously opening up “unallotted or unclaimed” lands to white settlers, thereby decreasing the amount of land occupied by Native people. Historians of this time period have found that many of the allotments given to Native people were not the most fertile lands or the best for timber, whereas the neighboring parcels sold to white settlers and land speculators proved to be more profitable, and if not, were easily abandoned for greener pastures to the west. This history is important because this is the political and cultural context in which Iapi Oaye Napeyuza was published and circulated.


Dakota readers of the paper were likely to encounter choices and pressures regarding whether or not they would accept the terms of a treaty, take up an allotment for farming, and submit to or resist sending their young children to an American school. White christian missionaries living amongst the Dakota, those who owned and operated the printing presses out of which these papers came, were there to teach about religion as much as encourage their Native neighbors to embrace these other aspects of assimilation into American society. It is curious then that these same missionaries worked with Dakota people to continue printing Iapi Oaye in the Dakota language both during and after the allotment and assimilation era.

two hands shaking in front of the Constitution


“Handshake of Language Progress”—Read a translation of the first page of Iápi Oáye Napéyuza.