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Lakota / Dakota / Sioux

For decades peace poles were made with the translation below that was called Lakota Sioux.


Someone in Chicago who has some contact with the Lakota people was having me make a 7-sided copper peace pole with a Lakota translation on it and told me that some Lakota regard it as an insult to have the name of their language attached to Sioux in that way. So I looked into it further and came up with a new translation for Lakota. And for Dakota. How I got them is written below.



Dakota and Lakota are so similar that most linguists consider them dialects of the same language, like the difference between British and American English. For Lakota I had three translations for the word peace: wowahwa, wowanwa, and wolakota.

Many languages do not have a word for peace. The translator has to choose something that represents a similar idea. Sometimes “not war” or “anti kill” is as close as they can get. If English didn’t have a word for water, would we translate it as liquid, lake, ocean, sea, river, brook, rain, creek, stream, dew, wave, white cap, or foam? All are correct in the right context.

An online Lakota dictionary chose wowahwa as their word for peace. But searches on wowahwa do not produce hits indicating it has much importance to speakers of that language.

A Russian mega linguist with whom I’m working originally picked “wowanwa.” In compiling a long list of translations for a project on which we are working, he went through written sources in libraries around the world and spoke to many professional linguists. He has compiled hundreds of translations of the word Peace even though the word is missing from the vocabulary lists of many languages, largely because many do not have a word for peace, even though they always have a word for War. Even native speakers can have difficulty deciding which word to use to represent Peace.

Lakota is one of the languages that does not have a word for Peace. The mega linguist located translations of books and compared passages in them with translations in other languages to see how many times various translators chose which words to represent Peace in differing contexts. For Lakota he settled on “wowanwa,” which is a legitimate choice. Internet searches on that word show it printed on tee shirts as the Lakota word for peace. Other sites with vocabulary lists picked it as the Lakota word for peace. 

However, there were no American Indians naming non-profit organizations “wowanawa” or establishing websites with that word in the URL, but there were for the word Wolakota. Wowanwa a valid choice and is used by many people, but below is why we chose Wolakota.


These are two academic websites that list "wolakota" as their choice for the translation of the word Peace into Lakota.

The next two sites are among those that show what the word means to people who speak that language.
These are American Indians naming non-profit organizations “wolakota” and establishing websites with that word in the URL.

So I started using Wolakota as the Lakota translation for the word Peace.

But what about Dakota?

All the information I found said that Dakota was the same as Lakota. But I suspected that using Wolakota for the Dakota translation might not be the best idea because the word “Lakota” is spelled out within that word. In the absence of other information, I would have picked the "wowanwa" for Dakota as so many others have. But I wrote about the issue to a college that was ordering a peace pole with Lakota and Dakota on it. They were in the region where the Dakota lived. People often choose languages that represent people in their area and so sometimes can be good sources for such information.

They wrote back that their Native American ethnic student services director, who they believe is Dakota herself, said that in her opinion the best word for Peace in Lakota is "Wolakota" and, no surprise, that the equivalent word in Dakota is "Wodakota." She described it as meaning something like "wellness of our people," and community or harmony or unity for those nations, and also as a frame mind, a way of living, a philosophy for life, the way they carry themselves - peace of mind. The Russian mega linguist says that in most languages people pick words that mean "not war" or "no conflict" when trying to translate Peace, rather than terms of wellbeing or unity. So Wolakota doesn’t translate exactly to Peace, but does appear to be the choice of people who speak that language.

She also said that there should be an accent over the first "o" in both translations. So their college got the translations with those accents.

A state supreme court judge was interested in the issue for a translation for a peace pole (not his first - he gives them as gifts). He previously had proved to be an excellent locator of such information. Through a string of contacts he got feedback from a teacher of the Lakota language at the Red Cloud Indian School who said that to be correct it needed to have the “h” shortened and a hacheck (a shortened “v”) put over that "h." The teacher did not mention an accent over the “o.” Neither did anyone else. No one else ever mentioned the hacheck either, but the source was someone who teaches the language. So I deferred to this person’s thought on the subject. Since the websites created by Lakota people use neither the accent nor the hacheck when spelling wolakota, I think it is acceptable without either, but their not using it might be the result of the limitations of computer keyboards. Since a native teacher of the language corrected that, I defer to that. So the judge got the translation without the accent but with the shortened "h" with the hachek over it and, until better information is presented, that is the default way I offer the translation. Although, that I am happy to change it for your peace pole if you have other thoughts.

I spend as much time on translations as I do making peace poles.

Translations of Peace Prayer for Peace Poles
Planting (installing) Peace Poles
Other Peace Poles I have made
History of Peace Poles | Why Peace Poles
Underwater Peace Pole | Invisible Peace Pole
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Joel Selmeier
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Cincinnati, Ohio 45244
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Site Updated December 8, 2011