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Honorary doctorate being awarded to Osage language master teacher

Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021



MANHATTAN — Kansas State University will present an honorary doctorate to a member of the Osage Nation credited with preserving and making the Osage language more accessible.

Herman "Mogri" Mongrain Lookout will receive the honor and serve as the speaker at commencement for the K-State Graduate School at 1 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, in Bramlage Coliseum.

The Kansas Board of Regents approved K-State's request to honor Lookout with an honorary doctorate in September. He was nominated for the honor by the College of Education to recognize his work in preserving the Osage language and culture.

"Mr. Lookout's impact on the Osage community and in the academic and educational world is the greatest form of leadership, innovation and diligence," said Claudia Petrescu, K-State's vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School. "We are honored to recognize him and his work."

Lookout, an Osage language master teacher and founding director of the Osage Language Department, is the inventor of the official Osage orthography — or alphabet — and language database. Before Lookout's efforts, there was no standard way of writing the Osage language as it was a spoken language. When the language was spelled, it was written the way one heard it.

The need to preserve the Osage language began long before Lookout was born and is tied to the history of Kansas. The Osage historically occupied lands in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Throughout the 19thcentury, they were forced into a section of land in northeastern Oklahoma where the Osage community still lives today. As land was taken from them, Osage children were sent to boarding schools that mandated English and forbid using Indigenous languages and spiritual practices. The use of the Osage language dwindled as the boarding school system continued into the 20thcentury.

Lookout wants to change that and has dedicated his life to learning and preserving the Osage language. His grandparents and parents were fluent in the language and Lookout's father taught him how to pray in Osage. He also attended classes taught by Osage elders and taught Osage language classes. In 2003, the Osage Tribal Council created the Osage Language Program and council member Jerry Shaw hired Lookout to be the program director.

To develop the orthography, Lookout worked with Osage elders, experts and linguists. Their work included listening to recordings of Osage elders to identify the different sounds and sound combinations of the language. Although some letter sounds are the same or similar to the English alphabet, the Osage orthography had to include new characters for letter sounds not made in English.

The Osage Nation officially adopted Lookout's 36-character Osage orthography. It has become the backbone of all Osage language education efforts and is available for all to learn and use through multiple digital platforms, including Google and Apple.

"This new orthography has become the curricular backbone of all Osage language education efforts," said Debbie Mercer, dean of the College of Education. "Mr. Lookout has been the primary leader behind the Osage language revitalization efforts and because of his dedication and leadership, there are many more Osage citizens, young and old, who are able to use the language in a variety of settings across multiple digital platforms. This work will influence many generations to come."


K-State commencement ceremonies


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Herman Lookout

Herman "Mogri" Mongrain Lookout will receive an honorary doctorate from Kansas State University on Dec. 10.