Photo and video courtesy of University of Minnesota Morris

‘A continuation of my upbringing’
UMN Morris’ Gavin Zempel wants to revive the Santee dialect of the Dakota language and build new connections to the culture



Gavin Zempel, ’24 
Hometown: Redwood Falls, Minnesota 
Studies: Native American Studies and Psychology with a minor in English, University of Minnesota Morris 
Scholarship: Ernest Kemble Scholarship 

I am a Bdewakantunwan Dakota or Santee Dakota from the Lower Sioux Indian community in southwestern Minnesota. When I was in high school, I always knew I wanted to go to college, but being that I am a first-generation college student, I never was told what going to college meant and what that would entail. That being said, I always knew I wanted to do research to help my community.

About that research:  
My research project is called Indigenous Language Revitalization in the Lower Sioux Indian Community. I was interested in doing this specific project because it's a continuation of my upbringing and my own interest before ever getting into college. I grew up being taught where my people are, who my people are, and to be proud in that, and part of that too was learning my language. I had started learning my language on my own as a 14-, 15-year-old. I knew bits and pieces just from being in the community.

On sharing the findings: 
At UMN Morris’ Undergraduate Research Symposium, I got to share all about my community, all about our language, our beautiful language, the Santee dialect of the Dakota language, and I'm also getting to share about a lot of the amazing things that native people have done in Polynesia, South America, North America, as well as my own community to revitalize their language. A lot of these efforts are very grassroots, bottom up.

Up next: 
I applied and I was accepted for UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program). It will be about my family history at Pipestone Indian School and boarding school through a familial and tribal perspective. So through the eyes of my family and/or my specific tribe. It hasn't been done nearly as widely as it should have because a lot of communities have very different and very unique histories and experiences with boarding schools, and I think it's important to articulate that, especially for my own community.

Support students like Gavin Zempel by giving to the Morris Academic eXperiences (MAX) Fund.

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