Ochethi Shakowin Orthography & Writing

Above, Leroy Curley's "The Lakota Alphabet."
Lakhóta Alphabet 
Inspired Way to Read and Write

By Dakota Wind (Update. Scroll down to Dakhóta Floral alphabet and font.)

In 1982, Leroy Curley (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe) developed his Lakota Alphabet. According to Curley, this new way of communication was a special gift from Wakxáŋ Txáŋka Txuŋkáshila, the creator. Forty-one characters in this beautiful alphabet were inspired by the phases of the sun and moon. 

Curley's final alphabet as it appeared on his funeral program in the fall of 2012. 

Curley continued to develop his alphabet, and after thirty years, his alphabet took a syncretic turn as the characters evolved, turning into a mirror of sorts of the regular English alphabet with characters representing the letters "A" through "Z." There are slight distinctions between upper and lower case letters and even a question mark.

Curley's 1982 alphabet changed. his orthography changed too. For example, his 1982 letter "G" looks like the letter "A" in his final alphabet. For a comparison and explanation of the many orthographies of Dakhóta and Lakhóta visit the Society to Advance Indigenous Vernaculars of the United States (SAIVUS) page dedicated to those various Lakota Orthographies

Above, an example of Curley's alphabet in a calligraphy script that says, "Wicháxpi waŋ ilé uŋ kiŋ," which translates as "The Returning Star That Burns," a term for Halley's Comet. By author. 

In recent years, another Lakota orthography was developed by the Lakota Language Consortium (LLC) which they call the Standard Lakota Orthography (SLO). Lekshí Kevin Locke (Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) once convinced me of the utility of the LLC's SLO but I am not hurt by the many beautiful orthographies that already exist.

In fact, Mission Dakhóta (as missionaries wrote the language) is a Standard Lakota Orthography and served generations of speakers for many years. Albert White Hat's orthography is a Standard Lakota Orthography too, and is still used. Violet Catches, a fluent Lakhóta speaker and linguist, developed her Txakini Iya orthography, which is also a Standard Lakota Orthography. In reality, they're all standards. To suggest that one Capitalized Standard is an institutional standard is a fallacy. 

Maxpíya Yapxéta (above), or "Cloud on Fire." By author.

I am not as convinced as I once was regarding one standard. When an individual says, "this way is best," or, "this way is the way," it demonstrates binary or exclusive thinking and that is not Ochéti Shakówiŋ thinking. 

You can acquire the LLC's Lakota keyboard on your mobile device by checking the app store, or you download it for your computer here

You can acquire a Lakota keyboard employing Albert White Hat's orthography here or download the keyboard bundle directly here

Ray Taken Alive, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and frontline Lakota language educator, took Curley's 1982 orthography and created a True Type Font (TTF). One you can easily install on your computer. Txaŋháŋshi Ray has graciously agreed to freely share this TTF. You can download it here. View Txaŋháŋshi Ray's instructional video to create your own Lakota keyboard.

An inspired take on Curley's 1982 alphabet. 

Inspired by Txaŋháŋshi Ray's efforts in taking Curley's 1982 alphabet and making it keyboard-friendly, I decided to revisit Curley's alphabet and create my own font. I sometimes employ the LLC's orthography, but I very much wanted to remain faithful to the spirit of Curley's 1982 efforts. 

Comparing Curley's 1982 alphabet to this 2020-inspired take you'll see that it's much the same but there are some differences. In Curley's '82 alphabet, there are no lowercase letters. His later version has slight distinctions for lowercase letters. This 2020 version keeps the characters the same, only smaller for lowercase. 

In keeping with the spirit of the '82 version, that the characters were inspired by the heavens, the accent or glottal indicators are represented as four-pointed stars. The concept for the period after a sentence is represented as a black-filled circle, which is the Lakota pictographic concept for an end (death, night, winter). The concept for the question mark is a half-circle, inspired by the Plains Indian sign language for "question." A bolt of lightning serves as an exclamation mark. 

How numerals might appear in the 2020 version. It's no mistake that these numerals look like hands. The top row is the hash line method of counting. The hand symbols represent how one counts with one's hands. The dot in the bottom row represents the finger from the opposite hand touching the top of the numerals for tens. 

There are no numbers in the 2020 version. In the pre-reservation days, numbers were drawn out much like hash marks. That would be impractical today to represent the number thirty with thirty marks (IIIIIIIIII IIIIIIIIII IIIIIIIIII) in a Word document. There was a concept of "nothing," but not zero as a numeric place marker. I suggest that it may be practical to employ regular English numerals. You might scroll back up and review Curley's final alphabet and check out the numbers he's developed. 

How does this 2020 Lakota alphabet look when put to use? 

The song of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, written in the LLC's orthography with a translation (above), and how the same song appears when using the 2020 Lakota Plain font. 

Maybe this looks strange and different. Maybe just different. Maybe you like it but aren't familiar with what it says or how to use it? Maybe you don't like it and don't want to use it. An easy way to try it out is to download the 2020 Lakota Plain Font, open a Word document, type in the LLC's orthography, select your text and change what you're working with to this font. 

Here are a few more examples.

I took a textless movie poster of Avatar and wrote "Tȟó Tȟáŋka" or "Big Blue." I created a papyrus version of the 2020 font. Like it? Get it here

Throughout the years, you may have heard the beautiful argument that the Lakota language was never written. I have wondered why there has to be a standard way of writing Lakota. 


The First Flute Song (above) is written in the Dakhóta Floral alphabet. The song was remembered by the late Kevin Locke
Dakhóta Floral Alphabet
Flowers of the Homeland
By Dakota Wind

Long ago, the Ochéti Shakówiŋ said that the flowers used to speak to people. When they walked by the Prairie Rose she used to call out "Haŋ!" A bashful flower, she stopped greeting the people when they didn't hear her or they ignored her. 

The Ochéti Shakówiŋ revered the flowers of their traditional homelands from the lakes and woodlands to the vast open plain. Many of their traditional medicines are taken from plants and bushes that blossom. Flowers were never picked just because they were beautiful. They also say that the rainbows are the spirits of last season's flowers. They beautify places and make the air sweet. 

A guide (above) to the flowers used to construct the Dakhóta Floral alphabet.

In August 2021, I was inspired by the revival of the Dakhóta Floral tradition in beadwork, quillwork, ribbon dresses, and graphic media. One night I dreamt of flowers too. I sketched out flowers and vines in a linear fashion left to right but the execution never seemed natural. Then a reader contacted me about the direction of thought and communication. Dakhóta Floral patterns are stacked. It became obvious that I needed to change the direction to capture the design elements of this tradition. It needed to be vertical.

It may seem impractical to have complicated characters representing sounds in this alphabet. The designs and patterns in Dakhóta Floral are thought out and reflected upon, however, and are carefully applied in practice onto the medium of leather, paper, cloth, etc. It is a mindful practice to beautify an everyday apparel or tool. 

A key to the Dakhóta Waxchá Iyá (above) as each character corresponds to its counterpart.

After drafting the characters on paper, I constructed them in a desktop publisher program, created an account at Calligraphr, imported the alphabet in their format, and the online app created the font and file. The font will not automatically type vertically in your Word doc. Here are the steps I take to use this font. 

After installing the Dakhóta Floral font for Windows users: 
1. Create text boxes. You can adjust them as you go along. 
2. Write your Lakhota text in the Txakini orthography. 
3. Select your text and change the font to Dakhóta Floral. 
4. Adjust your text box/es so that one letter is on one line, one letter atop the other.
5. Adjust your paragraph spacing "after" to "0 point." Adjust your line spacing to whatever you are comfortable with. I set mine to "multiple" at "0.85."

Here's a reading from Genesis 1:11 (above) transcribed from the Bible History in the Language of the Teton Sioux Indians (1924). By author. 

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