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White Hat Sr.

Albert White Hat, Sr.: Life and Work
This page has a detailed biography of Albert White Hat, Sr., photos, a biblography, etc.
Albert White Hat Sr.
Albert  White Hat Sr.
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Biography of Albert White Hat Sr.

Albert White Hat, Sr. (1938-2013) was a Sicangu (Rosebud) Lakota educator, author, linguist, tribal and spiritual leader, and respected elder. His Lakota name, Natan Tokahe, means "The First One to Charge." His grandfather was Chief Hollow Horn Bear, a Lakota war leader and later a negotiator for native rights. A respected tribal leader himself, Albert White Hat, Sr.’s awards included the 2007 Governor's Award in South Dakota. Specifically, he received the Living Indian Treasure Award “for his many contributions to Native American art forms. White Hat, who has been honored by the designation of traditional Chief by the Sicangu (Rosebud) Lakota people…continues to promote education and awareness for his people in the 21st century while maintaining a traditional way of life.” Other awards include the Gamahiel Chair for Peace and Justice in 1987, the Outstanding Indian Educator Award in 1995, and the National Indian Education Association's Indian Elder of the Year in 2001. He also served on a number of tribal councils over the years.

Chief White Hat was born on the outskirts of Saint Francis, SD, on the Rosebud Lakota Reservation. His father died when the boy was four, and his mother when he was seventeen. However, his family was one that followed the traditional Lakota ways, and Albert White Hat only spoke Lakota until age seven, when he started his formal schooling. He attended day school in the community of Spring Creek and then attended and graduated from St. Francis Jesuit Mission School. Regarding his education and the Lakota traditional ways, he said, “I got my education from the Jesuits, then I went back to my traditional ways and beliefs.” After his schooling, White Hat worked at a variety of jobs until he found his vocation as a scholar and teacher of Lakota language, culture, thought, oral history, and spirituality.

White Hat was a Lakota language instructor for over twenty-five years. He taught at, and later became the director of the Lakota language program at Sinte Gleska University at Mission, SD, the first tribal-based university in the US. After years of teaching Lakota from his own notes, he wrote a book, Reading and Writing the Lakota Language (Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press, 1999) which has enjoyed widespread use in secondary and post-secondary educational settings. In his foreword to that book, a noted Native American author, the late Vine Deloria Jr., wrote, “Albert White Hat reverses the traditional method of explaining language by showing through examples, anecdotes, and lessons the world view and values of the Brule Lakota, how people speak and think.” It is this special emphasis on the inter-connectedness of the language with the thought and culture of his people that distinguished the linguistic work of Chief White Hat. In 1982, because of his experience and ideas, he also chaired the Committee for the Preservation of the Lakota Language.

In addition, White Hat provided Lakota translations for many Hollywood movies, including Kevin Costner’s well-known 1990 film Dances with Wolves.

Besides teaching Lakota language, Albert White Hat also taught Lakota Philosophy and consulted on environmental projects through the perspective of American Indian attitudes towards the natural world.

Albert White Hat, Sr. last lived in St. Francis, SD. He died in South Dakota on June 11, 2013 at the age of 74.

Chief White Hat wrote the foreword to Paul Goble's book The Boy and His Mud Horses: And Other Stories from the Tipi.


Books/DVDs containing the work of Albert White Hat Sr.

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Quotes on Albert White Hat Sr.

“For his dedication to the traditions of the Lakota people, and for his contributions to the preservation of Lakota song and music, Albert White Hat, Sr., is truly deserving of this honor. He represents all the values expressed in the Living Indian Treasure Award.”
Pat Boyd, executive director of South Dakotans for the Arts, referring to Chief White Hat's receiving a 2007 Governor’s Award (for South Dakota).



“Albert White Hat reverses the traditional method of explaining language by showing through examples, anecdotes, and lessons the world view and values of the Brule Lakota, how people speak and think.”

Vine Deloria Jr., noted Native American author

Albert White Hat Sr.’s Bibliography

White Hat, Sr., A. (1999). Reading and Writing the Lakota Language. Salt Lake City: The University of Utah Press.

White Hat, A., Sr. (1983). Lakota ceremonial songs. Mission, SD: Sinte Gleska University.


Online Resources about Albert White Hat Sr.

The transcript of one of Mr. White Hat Sr.'s statements on the Ken Burns PBS documentary The West (in Episode Eight, “One Sky Above Us”) can be found on the PBS website. Click here to read the transcript in a separate window.
Albert White Hat was one of the persons interviewed for the book How Can I Find God? (St Pauls, Bandra, Mumbai, 1998) by James Martinon. In it, White Hat discusses the Sioux creation philosophy, and some important aspects of Lakota spirituality. Click here to read this short interview on the Google Books website in a new window.


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